Can Google's New Transcription Tool Keep Up With Justin Bieber or Twista?

We subjected Google's new note taker to the ultimate stress test. 

Google released a limited beta version of a must-download app for lawyers, journalists, and students on Tuesday. Live Transcribe claims to be able to meticulously record every word spoken in a conversation, interview, or even a rap song.

The software was specifically designed to assist the deaf and hard of hearing, but this example of inclusive design has opened the doors to an array of uses. It makes frantic note-taking a job for Google’s speech recognition algorithm and leaves the user free to focus on the speaker.

Even paid transcription services can be rife with errors, and as a service fresh out of beta, we assumed Google’s new transcription tools would experience some bugs. So to identify the short-comings, Inverse decided to put it through the ringer by attempting to transcribe Twista’s “Overnight Celebrity” and the Spanglish lyrics in Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber’s remix of “Despacito.” The results were certainly impressive, but highlighted some room for improvement before you can truly trust your smartphone to be the perfect note-taker.

The software comes pre-installed on Pixel 3 smartphones a it will gradually roll out to other Android phones and iOS devices over an unspecified time frame. Interested users can sign up to receive notifications of when it becomes more widely available.

Live Transcribe trying to write out the lyrics of "Despacito."

Live Transcribe: It’s Not a Speed Demon

People talk fast and sometimes disjointedly, so to test out how capable Live Transcribe would be at motor-mouth professor, we attempted to have it write out Twista lyrics. The Chicago-rapper is known for his speedy rhymes, which made “Overnight Celebrity” seem like the perfect stress test for the app.

Live Transcribe started strong but soon began to skip some of the MC’s dizzying bars, but it didn’t give up. It wrote out the line, “Can cop her, a 2000 and 3” to “I can type in the three makes a sound the three.”

The quality of the transcription quickly deteriorated, and by midway through the verse it got completely lost and just stopped transcribing. It seemed like the A.I. paused once the text reached the bottom of the screen. It’s unclear if the A.I. thought the transcription was over or if it simply got over-whelmed by the stress test and crashed.

Google did not immediately repond to a request for comment.

Google showcases how Live Transcribe can be used to help deaf people and those who are hard-of-hearing 

Live Transcribe: It Can’t Handle Bilingual Conversations

The “Despacito” remix resulted in a more accurate transcription of the English lyrics, but Live Transcribe was completely thrown for a loop when Luis Fonsi began singing in Spanish.

Google’s announcement clarifies that while the app was available in over 70 languages and dialects, per a blog post, it wasn’t yet able to handle two at once. A future update enabling this could serve to make Live Transcribe even more useful for bilingual speakers that go back and fort between two languages.

Media via Nick Lucchesi / Inverse, Google / Android
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