Today (Sept 20), Google and Howard University announced a new partnership called Project Elevate Black Voices. The partnership aims to improve speech technology for Black voices, essentially eliminating the need to ‘code switch.’
Based on Google’s own research, a Black person’s experience with automatic speech recognition technology (ASR) is worse when compared to a white user. African-American English (AAE) is usually not recognized by ASR resulting in Black people having to alter their natural voice patterns.
Project EBV aims to eliminate this issuing by building a high-quality AAE speech dataset.
According to the website, “the project will allow Howard University to share the dataset with those looking to improve speech technology while establishing a framework for responsible data collection, ensuring the data benefits Black communities.
Howard University will retain ownership of the dataset and licensing and serve as stewards for its responsible use. “
Dr. Gloria Washington, Associate Professor at Howard University and Principal Investigator for Project EBV noted how Black users are often “othered” in voice technology. “The most important part of this is showing that at a base level, however you speak is celebrated and that you can actually use these voice assistant tools daily,” she says.
Google strategically chose to work with the HBCU because of it’s world-renowned linguists and deep understanding of Black Americans.
Dr. Washington and the team at Howard are working closely with transcription vendors and AAE experts from Howard.
While they are still in the early stages of the project, the ultimate goal is to allow Black speakers to use voice technology and express themselves authentically.