Talking to Machines: from MUSA to the Google Assistant

Roberto Pieraccini

Friday 07 June 2019
14:15 - 15:15
Robotarium Seminar Room
Earl Mountbatten Building


For more than three decades Roberto Pieraccini has been actively working towards the goal of building machines that can intelligently converse with humans using speech. The technologies that enable a machine to recognize the words of an utterance, understand its meaning, decide how to act on that, perform an action and generate a spoken message back to a user where very limited thirty years ago. In spite of those limitations, with the help of good design practices, effective tools, smart usage of data and machine learning, we relentlessly made strides in advancing the performance and bringing measurable value to users. The dream of a human-like automated agent has not been fully realized yet, and many problems remain to be solved, but we are at a time in history when those technologies can enable a machine like the Google Assistant to be light years ahead in performance and sophistication as compared with analogous efforts of the past.

This talk is about the story of that journey, the problems encountered and the solutions that helped shape today’s technology landscape in this area. It is the story of the relentless improvement of the spoken human-machine technology, until today’s successes and beyond. It is also about the excitement of being working, at this very moment in time, on an exciting project like the Google Assistant, and help create a possible future for the machines who talk.


Roberto Pieraccini, a technology expert in the fields of speech recognition, natural language understanding, dialog, and human-machine interaction, is an Engineering Director for the Google Assistant in Zurich. He worked as a researcher at CSELT (Torino, Italy), Bell Labs, AT&T Laboratories and IBM T.J. Watson Research in the US. He was a technology leader at SpeechWorks International and SpeechCycle. He was the CEO of the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI), at Berkeley, and led the Conversational Technology at Jibo, one of the first consumer social robot companies. He is the author of “The Voice in the Machine: Building Computers that Understand Speech,” published by MIT Press. He is a fellow of IEEE and ISCA, and a member of the AVIOS board.

Host: Verena Rieser Host: web pages