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Google Experimenting With Voice Search on Google.com

Google is allowing some users to search the web by voice on their desktop browsers, a spokesperson from the company confirmed to us today in an email. Selected users are shown a little grey microphone at the end of the search box. The experiment was first mentioned by San Francisco’s Matt Schlicht, social product lead at live streaming video service Ustream, and was written up by the blog Mashable. (Turns out Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable posted on this even earlier, this morning.)

Voice search may or may not come to the desktop browser version of Google beyond this experiment, but it would good for Google’s long term interests if it did. Would it be good for users? Do you want to use voice input for search when you have access to a full keyboard, as opposed to a little Android phone? I suspect for many people the size of a keyboard is a less limiting factor than comfort using it for input. Voice search on the desktop could change the nature of peoples’ search queries and provide a lot more speech data for Google to analyze and learn from.

Most readers here may be able to type as fast or nearly as fast as they can speak, and feel comfortable doing so, but I imagine that’s not the case for the vast majority of Google users. Most peoples’ search queries are classically short and crude, generally 3 words or less; in many cases that may be because people simply grew tired of struggling to type. Web search by voice, in the comfort of your own home, could be a very different search experience for millions of people.

Google began incorporating speech to text into the newest stable build of its Chrome browser last week. Were it to allow everyone, including Internet Explorer and Firefox users, to search by voice at Google.com – that could be a big boost to the company’s efforts to develop deep artificial intelligence and an understanding of the meaning in free-form text.

Speech to text is a fascinating example of a technology that offers some immediate benefit to the users who engage with it – but ultimately far more value in the form of intelligence that Google can make use of across many different applications now and in the future. Effective speech to text technology and the artificial intelligence behind it is expensive and challenging – and yet it’s free for Android, Chrome and maybe Google.com users. As the saying goes, if you don’t know what’s being sold – then the product is probably you.

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