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Speech recognition expert raises concerns around voice technology in the workplace

 

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Soapbox’s chief operating officer Martyn Farrows

Soapbox’s chief operating officer Martyn Farrows

Soapbox’s chief operating officer Martyn Farrows

Irish speech recognition developer Soapbox Labs has warned employers to be careful about the implications of bringing voice interfaces and similar technology into the workplace.

Companies must consider these implications, said Martyn Farrows, chief operating officer of Soapbox, which focuses on the future use of technology for children.

"You could be accidentally collecting voice data and there are ethics and GDPR issues to be considered," Farrows said.

"What are the companies who collect our voice data doing with it in addition to building better voice engines? Are they selling it, using it to profile us in some way, using it to refine an advertising-based business model that targets us as individuals? The lack of transparency around big tech's use of voice data is a concern."

Farrows was speaking ahead of his appearance at an EdTech conference at Croke Park this Tuesday. The Learnovation Summit is being run by Learnovate, a technology centre based at Trinity College Dublin. The conference aims to examine how technology is changing the face of workplace learning and education.

"Your voice data can give away a lot; your accent can tell people where you are located and even determine your socio-economic status," said Farrows.

At the conference, he will tackle issues around voice interfaces, from the rise in their popularity to the implications of data collection for customers and businesses, due to the growth in the number of applications for voice technology in the home, in education and in the workplace.

Soapbox was a spin-in to Trinity College, where founder Patricia Scanlon worked closely with the Learnovate Centre, and is a global leader in speech technology for children.

Farrows has been a member of the Government's Data Forum since its inception in June 2015, and he said Soapbox is committed to a privacy-by- design approach to developing proprietary speech recognition technology for children.

"We never sell data or share data for commercial purposes. We only use voice data to enhance the accuracy of our speech recognition engine, plain and simple," he said.

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