Roberto Pieraccini

Roberto Pieraccini, an expert in spoken human–machine–interaction, is Director of Engineering at Google. He is the author of The Voice in the Machine: Building Computers That Understand Speech.

  • AI Assistants

    Roberto Pieraccini

    An accessible explanation of the technologies that enable such popular voice-interactive applications as Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.

    Have you talked to a machine lately? Asked Alexa to play a song, asked Siri to call a friend, asked Google Assistant to make a shopping list? This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers a nontechnical and accessible explanation of the technologies that enable these popular devices. Roberto Pieraccini, drawing on more than thirty years of experience at companies including Bell Labs, IBM, and Google, describes the developments in such fields as artificial intelligence, machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language understanding that allow us to outsource tasks to our ubiquitous virtual assistants.

    Pieraccini describes the software components that enable spoken communication between humans and computers, and explains why it's so difficult to build machines that understand humans. He explains speech recognition technology; problems in extracting meaning from utterances in order to execute a request; language and speech generation; the dialog manager module; and interactions with social assistants and robots. Finally, he considers the next big challenge in the development of virtual assistants: building in more intelligence—enabling them to do more than communicate in natural language and endowing them with the capacity to know us better, predict our needs more accurately, and perform complex tasks with ease.

    • Paperback $15.95
  • The Voice in the Machine

    The Voice in the Machine

    Building Computers That Understand Speech

    Roberto Pieraccini

    An examination of more than sixty years of successes and failures in developing technologies that allow computers to understand human spoken language.

    Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey famously featured HAL, a computer with the ability to hold lengthy conversations with his fellow space travelers. More than forty years later, we have advanced computer technology that Kubrick never imagined, but we do not have computers that talk and understand speech as HAL did. Is it a failure of our technology that we have not gotten much further than an automated voice that tells us to “say or press 1”? Or is there something fundamental in human language and speech that we do not yet understand deeply enough to be able to replicate in a computer? In The Voice in the Machine, Roberto Pieraccini examines six decades of work in science and technology to develop computers that can interact with humans using speech and the industry that has arisen around the quest for these technologies. He shows that although the computers today that understand speech may not have HAL's capacity for conversation, they have capabilities that make them usable in many applications today and are on a fast track of improvement and innovation.

    Pieraccini describes the evolution of speech recognition and speech understanding processes from waveform methods to artificial intelligence approaches to statistical learning and modeling of human speech based on a rigorous mathematical model—specifically, Hidden Markov Models (HMM). He details the development of dialog systems, the ability to produce speech, and the process of bringing talking machines to the market. Finally, he asks a question that only the future can answer: will we end up with HAL-like computers or something completely unexpected?

    • Hardcover $43.00
    • Paperback $35.00