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Speech-to-text technology faces multi-voice challenge

By Kirsten McMahon, Managing Editor

While there is no doubt that speech recognition technology is developing at a rapid rate, the biggest hurdle it faces is recognizing and differentiating multiple voices, Neesons Court Reporting founder and president Kim Neeson tells

“Apart from traditional speech recognition software, people are more comfortable using voice assistants through their cellphones and voice-activated devices in their homes,” Neeson says. “I think we can all acknowledge that technology is impacting many areas of our lives and court reporting is no exception.”

She says voice recognition technology will likely advance to being a viable solution for court reporting purposes. However, challenges still exist.

“In an application such as an examination for discovery or a court hearing where you have multiple voices, that’s where it becomes very challenging for any software,” Neeson says. “Some software can learn from you as a single "dictator," however, if you take it into a room where you have three defence counsel, two plaintiff lawyers and witnesses it becomes a real challenge.”

The technology can't yet reliably discern who is saying what or deal with crosstalk, she notes.

“I'm amazed at where the technology has got to this point. Many of the big tech companies, such as Google, IBM and Amazon, are very committed to creating accurate voice-to-text that can handle multiple parties, but we still have a long way to go in terms of replacing court reporting —and court reporters— as we know it,” Neeson says.

“In multiple-party proceedings, you have a court reporter who separates all of that out, and that’s where the human element still comes in,” she adds. “It’s not just words on a piece of paper. If the technology can’t handle different voices, you can have a pretty butchered transcript of what was said.”

Neeson adds that it would be naïve to think the technology is not going to impact court reporting. But like with other technological advancements, the role of the court reporter will adapt and evolve in response.

“A person who doesn’t keep their eye on technology and try to stay up-to-date with technology is going to find themselves being left behind,” she says.

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