back to article AI assistants work perfectly in the UK – unless you're from Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Belfast...

To those of us born here, Britain is a wondrous cornucopia of accents and dialects. To visitors, like US-bred AI assistants, people outside of London may as well not speak English. Such is the conclusion reached by comparison website Uswitch, which found that smart speakers from the likes of Google and Amazon have difficulty …

  1. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge

    Or indeed Gwendoline Post

    I assure that the misunderstanding happens on an equal opportunities basis. Now where did I leave that glove?

  2. tiggity Silver badge

    Yet another reason

    To not use them

    Just in case the privacy issues were not sufficient

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Yet another reason

      I suppose misunderstanding cancels out the privacy issues.

      1. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

        Re: Yet another reason

        Might be a good reason to use them - incoherent data to jam up the algorithm.

    2. hmv Silver badge

      Re: Yet another reason

      And send 'em back for a refund explaining why.

  3. Whitter
    Coat

    Eleven!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMS2VnDveP8

    1. gerdesj Silver badge

      Re: Eleven!

      aon-deug

      1. WanderingHaggis

        Re: Eleven!

        s math a rinn thu

    2. Evil Scot

      Re: Eleven!

      Aye.

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Once they've sorted out Belfast they still have North Antrim to deal with.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Don't forget West of the river Bann.

      The servers will need overclocking just to have a chance of keeping up.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Belfast accent - the worst

      worked with a guy from Belfast; I could not understand him in real-time. I had to quickly change all vowels and then I could get what he was talking about

      Geordie is second

  5. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

    Both my Amazon Echo's have been unplugged because a typical conversation went:

    alexa: turn the front room lights down

    There is no device called from room

    alexa: turn the living room lights down

    You wot m8?

    alexa: .... nevermind

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      One should have referred to the parlour. Or drawing room.

      1. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Cockerney

        It's not surprising that the pattern recognition machine taught using an authentic Dick Van Dyke stylee British accent...

        "Cor blimey guv, I'm off up the old apples and pears so I am gord bless me. Switch of this ear lamp."

        couldn't cope with normal speech.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Cockerney

          I can’t believe it works in London where the new generation speak MLE instead of cockney innit.

  6. trevorde

    Smart assistants only need to understand one thing

    Me: Alexa! Shut the f*$k up!

    Alexa: [stops playing music or whatever it is saying]

    1. logicalextreme Bronze badge

      Re: Smart assistants only need to understand one thing

      https://youtu.be/oCkcoNYbbuU

    2. Bill Gray

      Re: Smart assistants only need to understand one thing

      Well, it also needs to understand the obligatory XKCD.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Smart assistants only need to understand one thing

      Spent last Xmas at inlaws - where a charming niece kept shouting "Alexa, play the mincepie song!"

      Is there an "Alexa, initiate self destruct sequence" feature?

  7. chivo243 Silver badge
    Happy

    Lego Movie anyone?

    This gag was in a Lego Movie, I remember my son watching this part over and over. Can't get my google fu to find it either. I thought it was the unintelligible voice that did unlock it...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lego Movie anyone?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUM3uuAqBV0

  8. awy

    Reminds me of trying to get to the operator from some hotel phone in New York some time in the 80s. "Say operator to connect to the operator." Any many attempts it was discovered that "ahparaeter" was the needed utterance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Going back a few years, before AI - I was a limey in the US and had similar problems with waitresses.

      I found that doing a John Wayne impression seemed to help

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Or asking if they sell cider in a bar and getting the response, sure we have Coke, Diet Coke, Srpite etc etc...

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        That they generally tend to like our accent doesn't in any way indicate that they have the slightest clue what we're saying.

      3. Ken Shabby Bronze badge

        “Talk low, talk slow and don’t say too much.” – John Wayne

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      FAIL

      I used to shout myself hoarse trying to get my second Honda Jazz to understand me and make a phone call. Good job I rarely needed to. Honda fixed that in the next generation though. They removed voice control.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Ive had that experience in USA when the response I got was:

      “wud?”

  9. Richard Jones 1
    FAIL

    Voice Calling on an Andriod Phone Anybody?

    Frankly, do not bother with voice access things ever. Nokia had it working back in about 2008, Android/Google still cannot recognise a thing that is said to it in 2020.

    Is non-operative voice features a design feature?

    1. logicalextreme Bronze badge

      Re: Voice Calling on an Andriod Phone Anybody?

      I can't even see it being useful unless you have a disability that necessitates it, in which case you've hopefully got better gear to begin with. Even without factoring in time spent correcting mistakes/mishearings, I can't see it being any faster than doing it manually the same way I can't imagine an audiobook ever being faster than reading.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Voice Calling on an Andriod Phone Anybody?

      "Frankly, do not bother with voice access things ever. Nokia had it working back in about 2008, Android/Google still cannot recognise a thing that is said to it in 2020."

      I think that's because Google are using a sledge hammer while Nokia used a little toffee hammer. Nokia recognised a few command words and compared a name you spoke with what it found in the phone directory and did all the processing onboard the phone. Google appear to be using their full on "natural speech" cloudy parsing system.

      On the other hand, Nokia phones often had "interesting" ideas about the names you tried to voice dial. One colleague had a name with a "gh" in it pronounced as "r" so to get my Nokia to voice dial him I either had to mispronounce the name or spell it phonetically in the phone book. On the gripping hand, Google can't find that name when spelled and pronounced properly either.

      Oh, yeah, you're other statement. Voice dialling is good for in the car. Hands free and all that, often legally mandated in some jurisdictions. Luckily, in my case, the bluetooth car interface does voice dialling way better than "Hey Google" :-)

  10. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Yank Accents

    I wonder how badly these systems fail with some very pronounced Southern drawls which can be hard for other Southerners to understand.

    1. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

      Re: Yank Accents

      Or some inner city accents.

      Rural Georgia - I can pick up most of it. Inner Atlanta? Not a chance.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And how did the Apple or Samsung solutions perform?

    The article mentions Google & Alexa but no mention of how the Apple or Samsung solutions performed.

    Would be interesting to know if they are equally as bad.

    1. logicalextreme Bronze badge

      Re: And how did the Apple or Samsung solutions perform?

      Fun fact: in Scotland Bixby is called Begbie.

      1. onemark03

        Re: And how did the Apple or Samsung solutions perform?

        And I believe "Menzies" is pronounced "Mengiss" in Scotland.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And how did the Apple or Samsung solutions perform?

          ...Unless you happen to be in a part of Scotland that pronounces it as 'Mingus'..

  12. iron Silver badge

    > people outside of London may as well not speak English

    For many of us, people inside London do not speak English. For example the word button has two Ts in it. It is not pronounced "bu-un."

    I once heard a Canadian comic perfectly describe his problem understanding Scots accents - we pronounce all the letters. The less Alexa, Siri, etc understand us the better imo.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Just like train announcments..

      Birmingham = Burminnum

      1. A K Stiles Silver badge

        or "Burmigub" to a number of my former colleagues

        1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
          1. IGotOut Silver badge

            Brummagem if you don't mind, I'll have none of this moderm slang.

        2. Alister Silver badge

          That makes me think of the old advert for Tunes mentholyptus sweets:

          A bloke with a cold goes to a railway ticket office and says

          "Doo fird clad diggeds do Dottigab, Blead"

          And the ticket seller goes "Whut"?

          So the bloke goes and buys some Tunes, and has one, then goes back to the ticket window and says

          "Two first class tickets to Nottingham, Please"

          TUUUUNES!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah cannae ken how come alexa cannae ken me.

  13. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Belfast in Northern Ireland (64)

    We used to have problems with Skype talking to people in N'orn Iron

    The compression algorithm would chop down the already pretty clipped wording to the point of it being a bunch of clicks.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Belfast in Northern Ireland (64)

      "a bunch of clicks."

      Was it only me who parsed that as "a bunch of dicks"? No? Just me then. Bye.

      1. logicalextreme Bronze badge

        Re: Belfast in Northern Ireland (64)

        There is (or used to be) a design on the side of some Tesco home delivery vans featuring a picture of a bunch of asparagus and the words "Freshly clicked.". Never failed to elicit a double-take from me.

  14. jake Silver badge

    Wait ...

    ... you mean you lot don't all sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins?

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Wait ...

      Nice try...

      :)

      As you well know, nobody anywhere sounds like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

      1. jake Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Wait ...

        Not even Dick Van Dyke.

        Somebody had to. I'd apologize, but this is ElReg ... beer?

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Wait ...

        The German girl Lena won Eurovision one year with an accent that was...extraordinary.

  15. Horizontal
    FAIL

    Black Country Accent

    I have a thick Black Country accent so getting any voice assistant to understand me is nigh on impossible...

    OK Google call 'ar kid' Sorry I couldn't Archie

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Black Country Accent

      Of course you couldn't use Archie, that was for FTP ... You were actually looking for WAIS.

    2. gerdesj Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Black Country Accent

      Yam yam. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hNzbDP9ll4

    3. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Black Country Accent

      Depends, there's Black Country, then there's Gornal. I have no idea what language it is, a variation of inbred I think....

  16. Loud Speaker

    Standard BBC English here

    These things never understand me either.

    When using Google maps, my occasionally says "Sorry, I did not understand" - but I always to my best to turn off any voice anything, because I have never

    known one to work.

    The most annoying is the AVR used by banks. After asking you to say a number, it repeats it back to you and rarely gets as much as one digit in three correct.

    Then it asks if it was correct, and you reply "NO" it assumes that you meant "YES".

    In fairness, I cannot understand a lot of Americans on TV. I only discovered what "crosswalk" means after extreme harassment from Google's reCaptcha,

    and today I was told what a popsicle is. If I am going to learn another language, Spanish is higher on my list than American - and so are Shona and

    Greek.

    But I am OK with Glaswegians, but my grandfather grew up in Edinburgh, and I once had a Glaswegian girlfriend.

    1. DCdave

      Re: Standard BBC English here

      Ah, but Standard BBC English is a moving target these days. Currently a woman from somewhere oop North....and moving Left.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Standard BBC English here

        Tha reight, wi proper first person singular pronouns - not what a bunch of German royalty think English should be if it had Latin grammar

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    People who do not speak RP English ...

    ... do not deserve shiny technology.

    Back to your hovels, peasants. (Isn't this the point we are at now in this country?)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: People who do not speak RP English ...

      I'm reasonably confident that The Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP idea of new fangled shiny technology is the quill pen.

  18. Efer Brick

    I want a cab

    innit

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: I want a cab

      Where's tha bin?

      1. Stumpy

        Re: I want a cab

        It's over in the corner, next to the recycling dear boy.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speakers?

    I call them sneakers

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Speakers?

      With the amount of effort I hear it requires to use them shouldn't they be called trainers?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Speakers?

      I prefer Marathon.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The usual then?

    So is this down to the usual "AI" shortcomings of limited/biased training data? Or is it just phonetically really difficult to do?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The usual then?

      Yes.

      The longer answer is that even people need to learn or tune their ear to a new accent they've not previously encountered. So called AI speech recognition doesn't learn as it goes and both the providers and the users expect it to work without training it to the users voice.

  21. DCdave

    The BBC are releasing their own

    On twatter I saw that the BBC are releasing their own AI assistant, with a regional accent. Further delving showed that it's Cortana-based, so no doubt there will be little change to the accent recognition issue.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: The BBC are releasing their own

      Or if it does understand you it'll do something only tangentially related to your request.

  22. onemark03

    Southern (US) Accents

    Yup - like deepest Mississippi.

  23. MJI Silver badge

    Regional accents

    I have great difficulties with some north east accents, went as far as once getting someone to write it down.

    Another difficulty is mispronoucing vowls.

    Seen one TV person every vowl was o as in got, so plont.

    Some NI every vowl is i

    My accent consists of replacing missing Rs on ends of some words.

    1. Spacedinvader
      Pirate

      Re: Regional accents

      "replacing missing Rs on ends of some words"

      So you're a pirate?

    2. Goat Boy

      Re: Regional accents

      Vowel softening and replacement is my blood pressure's No1 foe lately.

      I thought the majority of it was just on my 7yo's telly, where-

      "Look" has become "Lick" (fnarr).

      "But" is now "Bert"

      And "Put" is "Pert" (also fnarr)

      But it's permeating normal telly too. *I* won't be able to understand anyone in a few years time, those illuminated bricks sat on the sideboard will have no chance. (Lar)

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To be honest, I don't understand many people north of Cambridge.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Maximum Delfango
    Pint

    Could we have an illustration of someone testing whether AI assistants...

    ...work in the noisy environment of a beach? For example: https://regmedia.co.uk/2008/05/21/eee_girl_1.jpg

  26. IGotOut Silver badge

    This is not a joke...

    But was funny.

    I was ona conferene call with

    Two from Glasgow

    One from Liverpool

    One from the black country

    One from London

    Two from Paris

    One from Bacau (Romania)

    One from Berlin.

    About 10 minutes in we ended up in a fit of of hysterics when I pointed out the most used phrase was "can you repeat that, I didn't quite catch it"

    Oddly it was the Romanians we all understood the best.

  27. Coastal cutie

    It's not just smart speakers

    My boss is from the North East - the result of Teams attempting to transcribe a voicemail message he's left is invariably gibberish, though usually quite amusing. His smartphone can't understand him either.

    1. wdce

      Re: It's not just smart speakers

      North east of where?

  28. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Another "smart speaker" issue

    There's also the problem of people having multiple different devices, often from the same supplier in the room at the same time. Which one should respond? It's about time Google, Amazon et al allowed the users to set their own "wake" phrase like my 15 year old SatNav does.

    "Hey Google, switch to BBC1". TV turns to BBCOne, smart speaker plays Radio One, phone asks if you want TV or radio, Alexa says "what's a google?"

  29. Jeffrey Nonken

    I don't think it's my accent

    Oddly enough, any time I ask Google to arrange a three-way with Siri and Cortana, she claims not to understand the question.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020