Liam O’Dell: Google invited me to test Live Transcribe – here’s what I think

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How good are Google’s captioning capabilities? Well, we’ve all logged onto YouTube and relied on automatic captions to understand the bare minimum, but even that automatic speech recognition technology – although it has improved over time – leaves a lot to be desired. For those looking to invest in Google’s Android phones, there are similar tools: Live Transcribe and Live Caption.

The invitation to try out these features on the Google Pixel 6 Pro came just days before the start of this year’s Deaf Awareness Week, and I got the phone call in the middle. First impressions were strong, as I admired its huge screen that rolls up slightly on the sides and its camera capabilities. My long-term commitment, the iPhone, has the edge in this regard (Android comes with a slight blur on its viewfinder), but its motion settings and 360-degree settings are unique to its hardware.

Downsides – of which there are, tragically, many – include an oversensitive fingerprint scanner that doesn’t recognize your index finger more times than it does, a disorienting Maps app that doesn’t take you completely to the spot desired and a power off setting that is far from practical. You have to press the power and volume button at the same time, and it may be my dyspraxia or declining motor ability showing up here, but it’s impossible to apply the right amount of pressure to both buttons with a single finger or thumb. Instead, I ended up opting for a menu that lingers on the right side of my screen, next to Live Transcribe – a menu that ultimately requires more buttons to perform the simple act of turning off a phone than would generally be expected.

Speaking of Live Transcribe, let’s finally talk about the feature that led Google to kindly send me the Pixel in the first place. The areas where I could supposedly use the feature are endless, and over the course of a few days of testing the technology, many circumstances arose. I made several train journeys with inaccessible tannoy announcements, and when within the welcoming walls of a theater foyer it was hard to hear the audience’s call to take their seats as they were drowned out by the social chatter of the others.

Unfortunately, Live Transcribe failed in both situations. By the way, it would also fail to transcribe mobile calls, as described.

And know that I say this as an individual who recognizes and dismisses his Apple bias in writing this. I hoped the technology – designed with the help of Gallaudet University – would do what my hearing aids (and many others) couldn’t, and distinguish a single voice among the background noise. It failed, choosing instead to inform me that there was wind in the background while listening to the tube announcement and that there might be a crowd chatting in the lobby.

Well, duh.

I quickly realized that it was better for conversations closer to the microphone – an obvious and fair technical requirement which I will grant – but for deaf people like me with residual hearing, it often happens that our hearing is somewhat dependent on proximity. at the source of the sound. However, I have no doubt that there could be greater benefits for people who are profoundly deaf.

Where this technology excelled for me, however, was in the form of live captioning, capable of transcribing media streamed to the phone. There’s no denying that for longer, uncaptioned YouTube videos where automatic captions fail, live captions provide a sufficient last resort.

I should mention that I was offered the opportunity to speak to the Google employee responsible for the Live Transcribe feature – and I allegedly asked him about the difference between Live Transcribe and automatic captions, and if they use the same technology – but I’m still being granted time for an interview.

There’s one app, however, that I’ll be looking to use even when my SIM card is back within the reassuring confines of my iPhone, and that’s Recorder. Sure, competing apps like Otter offer respite for reporters who hate transcripts, but that only covers you on the free plan for 30 minutes. There are no limits to Recorder, and its accuracy is impressive.

How I wish I could use that adjective to describe my experience with the Pixel 6 Pro and Live Transcribe as a whole.

By Liam O’Dell. Liam is a slightly deaf freelance journalist and campaigner from Bedfordshire. He wears bilateral hearing aids and can be found talking about disability, drama, politics and more on Twitter and on his website.



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