The Fast Forward Revue

411: A Google Odyssey by gaohippy
July 7, 2008, 1:57 am
Filed under: Author: gaoalexander, Technology | Tags: , , , ,
GOOG-411 is a phonebook for the digital age.

GOOG-411 is a free phonebook for the digital age.

Everyone knows that Google and Apple will take over the world by the year 2015. They are unrivaled in taking everyday tasks and making them easier, faster, better, and more fun. Take Google’s new GOOG-411 system, for example, released in late 2007. All you have to do is call 1-800-GOOG-411, and a series of voice recognizing prompts will lead you to the address and name of any proximate restaurant within seconds. Not only did it know that The Chop House is located on South Main Street of Ann Arbor, but it also tracked down John’s Pizza (a Manhattan favorite that I didn’t know the address of) and Greenwich Village’s Waverly Restaurant.

Oh, and just because food is the only thing that I have on my mind right now doesn’t mean it doesn’t track down other businesses like The Flash. “Michigan Theater. I’ll connect you,” says the soothing voice that apparently belongs to a yet to be disclosed member of the GOOG-411 team. It beats the heck out of Ticketmaster’s robot voice, and what’s more is that it doesn’t struggle with pronunciations. So what else is good about GOOG-411? Well, it’s 100% FREE, it moves faster than the TGV, and you can even opt for information to be sent to your phone via SMS. So, next time you don’t know a phone number or are vacationing in Mordor and need some help finding a good burrito joint, try GOOG-411. Oh, and for you Canadian readers, yes. It works in Canada! It’s truly great.

Click here to watch an introduction from one of Google’s very own.

For the technologically inclined: READ ON! (Wait, this is the digital age, so that means you!)

Of note is the brief “Calls Recorded” that plays when GOOG-411 picks up your call. Why would they need to record calls? Well, Google does have ulterior motives for establishing 411, although they are quite benevolent. Google executive Marissa Mayer explains:

“Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. I myself am somewhat skeptical. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model … that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.

The speech recognition experts that we have say: If you want us to build a really robust speech model, we need a lot of phonemes, which is a syllable as spoken by a particular voice with a particular intonation. So we need a lot of people talking, saying things so that we can ultimately train off of that. … So 1-800-GOOG-411 is about that: Getting a bunch of different speech samples so that when you call up or we’re trying to get the voice out of video, we can do it with high accuracy.”


So, whether or not you trust Google with your life, GOOG-411 is still pretty rad.



4 Comments so far
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Oh my, I felt like I was talking to a real guy.
I guess if I ever get lonely I know who to call…

But I tried some chinese restaurants like my dim sum favourite ‘Lai Toh Heen’ and it couldn’t understand it. Perhaps other languages are coming in the future. Does it recognize different accents?

Comment by jaxba

Wow. This is amazing. And somewhat frightening. But I think the absolute awe temporarily beats out the terror. And if Google really is bent on world domination, then I can think of no worthier website to do it. Except maybe

Comment by E. Sempé

I tried to the best of my ability to imitate various foreign accents in order to test the voice recognition abilities of 411. To my surprise, it handled them with ease.

Comment by gaoalexander

Technology nowadays is truly amazing, voice recognition and all. It’s a great idea, but would you wanna try speaking to a human being? I would recommend 411SAVE for that matter. It’s also free of charge. Why don’t you try it?

Comment by Logan

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