Speech Surfing Powered by Google

With its latest gadget, Google has taken aim, for now, at the current election season. Recently, their research team rolled out a nifty little tool that uses speech recognition technology to convert spoken words within YouTube political videos into readable text. But wait, there’s more! Not only does this tool recognize the words spoken by candidates appearing on these videos, but this indexed text can then be searched, allowing users to skip easily to the areas of the speech that are most important to them.

There you have it. The Google Elections Video Search gadget.

The major benefit of this tool is quite obvious. Google has given users another way to search for relevant videos, besides titles and descriptions. Once a searcher has entered his or her query, this tool scans the videos in YouTube’s Politicians channel (the only area where this service is currently available) and produces the proper results. Once a video is selected for viewing, markers are placed within the status bar, showing users where their search term showed up in the speech. Want to hear what Barack Obama has to say about health care? How about John McCain’s views on the economy? Whether it be about health care, the war on terror, or the assault on gas prices, this gadget is a great way for voters to find information, direct from the mouths of this year’s candidates, on issues they see as vital in making their election decision.

But Is It Accurate?… Well, It’s Close

While this new service provided by Google gives voters a new method of informing themselves, it isn’t exactly perfect. An obvious hinderance that could be encountered deals with how the gadget identifies homophones: words that are different but sound the same, such as “our” and “are,” or “night” and “knight.” (Though I can’t imagine why a candidate would need to use the word “knight,” unless they plan on implementing a radical new national defense strategy, but you get the idea.) We can only hope Google’s scanning and search algorithms take this into account. That said, there are still reported issues with words of this nature.

Context might come into play as well. Let’s look at health care. If someone does a quick search for the term “health,” hoping to see results about health care, results may be returned for a number of others issues, such as candidates speaking about the health of the economy.

Both issues mentioned above, of course, rely on the fact that the text converted by The Google Elections Video Search gadget is accurate. Lucky for us, Google has already directly admitted in their blog that the tool isn’t 100% accurate. However, they are quick to mention that they are continually refining their algorithms to provide better accuracy. Even if the speeches that are converted to text aren’t perfect down to the letter, the this tool still allows users to jump to sections of speeches directly pertaining to their query.

Search Implications

The ability of Google to recognize the spoken words contained in a video is a large step toward a more comprehensive search engine. If or when this technology is available for all YouTube videos, it could help pave the way for universal search to become a more efficient and likely dominant force in the world of search.

Until then, at least we no longer have to sift (or sit) through long political speech videos online just to find information on what each candidate thinks about the issues we’ll be voting on come November 4th.