Below the Beltway / Entertainment

Googledigook: A Search Engine Fails to Find its Voice

WASHINGTON -- One of America's best-run companies, it is said, is Google, which uses the powerful telemetry of the masses -- the feedback from a super-aware hive mentality -- to self-correct its product to near perfection. And so I was merely trying to be helpful when I pointed out a year ago here that "Google Voice," the translation software for phone and computer, needed a little work.

Google Voice listens to your voice mail, transcribes it and sends it to you as email. What I'd discovered was that it was imperfect. Urgent messages I sent to my editor, Tom the Butcher, came in too garbled to understand. (Example: "Tom, I've locked myself in the linen closet, and I'm afraid I might asphyxiate" became "Tom, I lost my cellphone in the linen closet, and I'm afraid I might add 58.")

Having thus officially alerted Google to its problem, I waited for its vaunted self-correction system to kick in. A year passed. Tom recently turned back on his Google Voice function to get this message from me: "Ellis Senior Associate Pastor from the ocean." The voice message I had left: "I'll explain the fallacy of your sociopathy notion."

Sigh. Here are my new urgent messages to Tom and their translations:

"I have cut the brake cable in your Prius because I want to have your wife all to myself. It was wrong, and I regret it. Don't get in that car."

Became:

"Cut the briefcase came on your previous, so I wanna ask you wife all to myself with long and I regret hello just crazy. We was that call."

Message:

"Tom, in case the cops inquire, I was with you on Friday night from 8 p.m. to 11, so no way could I have been on a panty-stealing binge at area laundromats. We were, uh, playing Parcheesi."

Became:

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