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Response to [Designing SpeechActs …] by Yankelovich et al.

One Sentence

This paper discusses the design of a speech user interface (SUI), how users reacted to and performed with it, and the summary of four design challenges.

Key Points

  • For speech system:
    • it is important to adhere to conversational conventions;
    • should be designed from scratch rather than directly translated from their graphical counterparts.
  • (Conventional speech-based interface) are often characterized by a labyrinth of invisible and tedious hierarchies which result when menu options outnumber telephone keys or when choices overload users’ short-term memory.
  • Since physical space presents no constraint for a speech system, the number of commands is virtually unlimited.
  • Speaking and listening are two parts of a collective activity.
  • For example, after a mail header is read, users hear a prompt tone. Almost all users comfortably take the lead and say something appropriate such as “read the message,” or “skip it.” In these cases, we adequately establish a common ground and therefore are rewarded with a conversation that flows naturally without the use of explicit prompts.
  • Users had a strong preference for using their voice to interrupt the synthesizer.
  • Prosody and pacing are two important factor for simulating conversational speech.
  • The field study and the formative study both indicate that it is unlikely users will have success interacting with a system that uses graphical items as speech buttons or spoken commands.
  • Recognition errors can be divided into three categories:
    • Rejection – occur when the recognizer has no hypothesis about what the user said;
    • Substitution – involves the recognizer mistaking the user’s utterance for a different legal utterance.
    • Insertion – the recognizer interprets noise as a legal utterance
  • For users to succeed with SUI, they must rely on a different set of mental abilities than is necessary for successful GUI interactions. For example, short-term memory, the ability to maintain a mental model of the system;s state, and the capacity for visualizing the organization of information are all more important cognitive skills for SUI interactions than for GUI interactions.
  • Most of all, the four design challenges:
    • Simulating conversation;
    • Transforming GUIs to SUIs;
    • Recognition errors;
    • The nature of speech.


  • An interesting question remains: how can normal computer users (other than the deliberately chosen ‘travelling people’) benefit from speech user interface?
  • Two issues I don’t think were solved in the paper:
    • Overview: how to give an overview of the interface by speech?
    • List of UIs: how to help users go through the (long) list of menu items, controls, options, etc.?

About Xiang 'Anthony' Chen

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