Startup developed technology to “erase” accents in call centers

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The idea sounds like something out of a dystopian movie. Sanas, a Silicon Valley start-up, marketed an “accent translator” implemented primarily in call centers. The company says it wants to translate any accent into any other. Currently, however, the usage is more of a conversion to a “white American” accent…

hear the magic “, We can read on the website of the start-up, just above, a demonstration of the technology. You can hear a person speaking with an Indian accent. With the push of a button, the voice takes on a sanitized American accent. If there is “magic”, it is not certain that it is to everyone’s taste…

The company says it simply wants to lower communication barriers around the world and “give confidence” to company employees who would like to speak another language. ” Be ready for any opportunity with a variety of accents at your fingertips for confident communication “, she says enthusiastically. It also claims that accent matching can improve comprehension by 31% and customer satisfaction by 21%.

To the criticism of the erasure of cultures, Sanas responds: It is a step towards the empowerment of individuals, promoting equality and deepening empathy. We are committed to protecting the world’s diverse voice identities and cultures. “. In particular, she argues that people have the option of whether or not to activate the accent translator and have full control over its nuances: “ Your voice is yours. Modify only what you want and leave everything else intact with custom controls “, she asks. Marty Sarim, president of Sanas, therefore doesn’t see “ not how anything negative could come out of it “. Which is not the case at all.

A “voice of white”

Winifred Poster, professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, is already casting doubt on the choice issue. Questioned by SFGate, she highlights the lack of autonomy already present in many call centers, where workers go through very heavy controls. “ There is practically nothing in the work process of call centers that involves choosing workers in technology. “, she says. “ You are recorded and analyzed and receive on-screen alerts when you speak too fast or too slowly “.

However, the United States, like Europe, often subcontracts certain services to call centers abroad to reduce their costs. It is therefore difficult to imagine that workers will not be forced to erase their accent. In addition, she points out that they are often already encouraged to “whiten” themselves by changing their voice or changing their name. A call center strategy that doesn’t reduce the racism they have to put up with. In fact, according to Kiran Mirchandani, a professor at the University of Toronto who has researched Indian call centers, accent translator can even worsen racist behavior. ” Racism towards customers is likely to increase if workers are further dehumanized when an app is placed between worker and customer, especially as there will undoubtedly be mistakes made by it. she tells SF Gate.

In any case, it seems difficult to contribute to greater tolerance in the world by artificially erasing differences. As for improving the working conditions of call center employees, no new technology is needed », points out Winifred Poster. ” Employees need more training – not on how to look whiter, but on how to provide real, tangible solutions to customer calls. They need less supervision so they can comfortably help customers without feeling the breath of quality control officers on the back of their necks. “.

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