UPDATED-When good demos go (very, very) bad
(updated July 31) Microsoft’s failed voice recognition product demonstration at last Thursday’s Financial Analyst Meeting came full circle on Monday when Larry Osterman, a 22-year veteran Microsoft developer admitted on his blog that he was responsible for the bug that led to the on-stage meltdown. In a disarmingly confessional post entitled “Wait, that was my bug? Ouch!” Osterman describes the spectacle and then adds “…and it was my fault.” Wait a second. Someone in the computer industry just took personal responsibility for messing up?Eleven years after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in his 1995 book “The Road Ahead” predicted humans would one day talk to their computers rather than have to type, the future appeared to be at hand.At Microsoft’s annual Financial Analyst Meeting on Thursday, Vista product manager Shanen Boettcher set out to show just how easy to use the speech recognition technology built into upcoming Windows Vista software will be. Like, for example, dictating aloud a simple, heartfelt letter to mom, and having one’s voice automatically transcribed into a computer.The result was a disaster.Several tries at making the computer understand the simple salutation “Dear Mom” was read by Microsoft software as “Dear Aunt, let’s set so double the killer delete select all.” Attempts to correct or undo or delete the error only deepened the mess.It was not just a perfect refutation of the problems of making machines understand human speech. What other features of Microsoft Windows Vista pose trouble, the audience was left to wonder? “The crashing demo didn’t do a lot to instill confidence in the new Windows product,” one Wall Street analyst, who was present at the demo, said.Windows Vista, already five years in the making, has been postponed by Microsoft several times. Delays have put off the consumer version of Windows until early 2007 — after the crucial holiday shopping season. Vista is scheduled to ship to corporate customers this November, that is, unless more problems are uncovered.Later, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer blamed the failed speech recognition product demonstration on “a little bit of echo” in the room, which confused the speech-to-text system. To be sure, a second demonstration during the meeting showed how effectively speech recognition can be for navigating around applications, like Microsoft Outlook.Structured menus appear to work fine. But recognizing random, natural speech still has quite a ways to go, by all appearances: “Let’s set so double the killer delete select all.”— Additional reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi.Read the more than 2,800 comments on Digg…Buyer beware, but several posters are offering T-shirts to commemorate the event. (1), (2), (3) Here is the YouTube link to various videos of the demo gone awry.