Voice technology in telephony – Nigel Cannings

Nigel is the CTO at Intelligent Voice

Before his career in tech, Nigel was an IT lawyer (before IT lawyers were a thing). He’s invested in several small software companies in his time and now specialises in voice recognition and related technologies. 

Intelligent Voice provides market-leading surveillance and monitoring solutions for telephone calls, e-mail, IM, social media, and any text documents. We also have an incredibly fast speech to text engine, capable of processing speech to text at up to 400x real time using Nvidia GPU technology. 


The magic pipe fallacy

What is the magic pipe fallacy? It’s a term coined by Nigel to describe the lack of privacy-guards in Alexa’s voice automation hardware. He explains all in this podcast.

‘There’s another really interesting side to Alexa, and voice technology more broadly. That’s the issue of privacy. It’s an issue that has been highlighted quite starkly recently. I’ve been talking about this issue for a couple of years and I’ve called it the magic pipe fallacy.

The magic pipe fallacy is something I introduce to a lot of people but particularly people in financial services. I do this because: for me, the scariest phrase in the English language is ‘Alexa, what’s my bank balance’.

The reason for this is pretty straight forward. When you speak to Alexa anything you say is taken to the Amazon servers. The servers turn it to text, they run it against a skill, they look up what you need and then send that data to your bank and retrieve the information. 

If, for example, I’m £300 pounds overdrawn, Alexa will say ‘Nigel, you’re £300 overdrawn’. All of that data has gone through Amazon. What’s come to light recently, which is absolutely true is that Amazon has an office block full of staff listening to these requests.

They’re doing this because they’re trying to improve the transcription. They’re trying to improve the quality of it. So imagine if I was talking to a healthcare app. And I was describing a particularly embarrassing problem. Someone at Amazon could be listening to that. 

So the magic pipe fallacy is when I explain to people that there’s no magic pipe that goes between the Alexa device and the ultimate provider of your information. So when I speak to Alexa and say ‘what’s my bank balance’, it doesn’t call my bank up and ask what my bank balance is using a magic pipe between the two. What its actually doing is going via Amazon.

So, for me, privacy in voice or the loss of privacy is one of the most challenging things we face in the industry’        


Show Notes:

01.28 Working with Voice Technologies 

03.34 What does Intelligent Voice do?

07.14 Nigel’s guilty secret 

09.06 Moving from law to speech technology 

10.26 Consumer products and voice

13.20 Alexa changed the speech recognition game  

15.47 The magic pipe fallacy

18.16 Voice technology can be scary 

21.20 How do we solve voice technologies security issues?

27.12 Chatbots