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Down Syndrome Group Partnering With L.I. College To Improve Google's Voice Recognition Technology

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Some Long Islanders are helping to teach Google how to better understand them.

They're people with speech differences and they're helping improve the technology of voice recognition, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Tuesday.

Voice recognition saves time and enriches life. But what if your smart device isn't smart enough to recognize you?

"They don't answer what I say to Siri," Jake Lunney said, adding when asked if he means the phone doesn't understand him, "Right."

Some Long Islanders are helping to teach Google how to better understand them. They are people with speech differences and through technology, they're working on a "Voice For All." (Credit: CBS2)

Now Lunney and others with speech differences are teaching Google how to understand them better.

Members of the BackYard Players, disabled young people with Down syndrome, are partnering with speech students at Molloy College in donating their voices to Google's ambitious Project Euphonia, helping to create a data base to train the technology to understand people with speech impairment.

"There individuals are unable to utilize the technology to the best of their abilities. If they could, it would transform their lives," said Dr. Audra Cerruto, the associate dean of Molloy College. "If voice commands could be understood then individuals with disabilities could become more independent, more autonomous."

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No one had ever collected large data sets of people who are hard to understand, until now.

"Just saying, 'Google, call mom.' You know, 'Google, what's the bus schedule?' If you have a physical disability how much greater it would be to be able to use this technology," said Ellen White, director of BackYard Players & Friends.

In the Down syndrome community, 500 voices are being collected, but Google is collecting thousands of samples of all kinds of non-standard speech.

Anyone with neurological conditions that impair their speech can donate their voice. Google said it's not ready to roll out a product yet. This is a research project that it hopes will make voice recognition one day recognize everyone.

Participants are eligible for gift certificates if they complete 1,500 phrases.

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