Spinvox Partners Back Technology Claims

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Transcription company Spinvox, accused of faking, gets scientists and call centres to vouch for it

Transcription company Spinvox, accused on Thursday of breaking privacy and using humans to convert messages to text, has hit back with public claims to have virtually automated the whole process.

“We’re in the last mile of solving the problem of reliable automatic speech conversion,” said Spinvox co-founder Daniel Doulton in a statement, which claimed the company has reduced the use of human quality-control staff by 98 percent over the last two years.

When the system was launched it used thousands of agents per market, but this has reduced to “a few hundred agents per market”, who are in five call centres, according to CIO Rob Wheatley.

The Spinvox VMCS system, was criticised by the BBC and rivals last week, but it knows two billion words and phrases that comprise 99 per cent of anything a user is likely to say, the company claimed. Spinvox dismissed questions raised by rival Nuance on Thursday, saying its technology “is unique to the speech market, so there is little to which it can be compared”.

At SpinVox’ Cambridge-based Advanced Speech Group (ASG) twenty experts are working on artificial intelligence, semantics and natural linguistics, and have given the system the equivalent of 72 years of audio training.

“Much of this technology derives from the world-leading research undertaken by my group at Cambridge University Machine Intelligence Laboratory,” said Professor Philip Woodland of the Cambridge University Machine Intelligence Laboratory, a consultant to SpinVox’ ASG. “Their unique approach allows the automatic system to be exposed to huge amounts of spoken data, from which highly accurate acoustic and language models can be built.”

The statement reiterates the company’s claim, made on Friday, that its automatic speech conversion system uses “live learning” with some user checking, but does not give a figure for how much human checking is involved, or any specific explanation for the wide variation in transcriptions of the same message, reported by the BBC.

It also restates the company’s message that any text sent for checking is anonymised to protect privacy, and wheels on partners: “I can categorically assure people that SpinVox messages are both private and secure,” says Jaime Tronqued, president of ScopeWorks Asia, a quality control house used by Spinvox. “SpinVox was extremely thorough in its audit of our operations, our security and our privacy procedures as they ran a training pilot with our Quality Control agents on test conversion messages, prior to contracting with us to deliver a live customer service using encrypted and anonymised messages.“

Ragindra Persaud, CEO of NPIC, a South American-based call centre, says more or less the same: “In the live customer system there is no way for any Quality Control agent to know where a message has come from or to whom it is being sent, nor copy or abuse this.”

The company claims it has 30 million users, and expects to have 100 million users by the end of 2009, taking deals from rivals like Nuance: “We’ve already signed 28 operators in the two short years we’ve been selling to carriers, and there are more deals to come,” said Doulton. These deals include one with Telefonica for thirteen countries in Latin America.

“Like every business, we have to deal with challenges, particularly in the middle of a credit crunch,” said co-founder Christina Domecq, “but we are in a strong position, are growing fast and are looking to the future with confidence.”


A Spinvox spokesperson clarified the company’s stance that SpinVox is allowed to transfer data outside the EU, despite apparently claiming not to: “Spinvox’s entry on the Data Protection register does not cover, and is not required to cover SpinVox’s live system, on the basis that SpinVox is a Data Processor and not a Data Controller in respect of the live service. The Registration is only required to cover those aspects for which SpinVox is the Data Controller and in relation to that information it is not passed outside the EEA. SpinVox does used third parties outside of the UK for Quality Control purposes.”

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