A Brief History of Voice Recognition Technology

Brief History of Voice Recognition Technology

In this article we take a look at the history of voice recognition technology. It’s easy to say that voice recognition has come a long way over the years, but this technology is not something recent. In fact, it has its roots back in the 1950’s.

Let’s dive in and take a look at the history of how voice recognition has evolved over time into the technology we know today.

1950’s – 1960’s

In the history of voice recognition technology, this was the era of “baby talk”, with only numbers and digits able to be comprehended. In 1952, Audrey was invented by Bell Laboratories which could only understand numbers. But in 1962, the shoebox technology was able to understand 16 words in English. Later, voice recognition was enhanced to comprehend 9 consonants and 4 vowels.


The U.S. Department of Defense contributed heavily towards the development speech recognition systems and from 1971 to 1976. It funded the DARPA SUR (Speech Understanding Research) program. As a result, Harpy was developed by Carnegie Mellon which had the ability to comprehend 1,011 words. It employed a more efficient system of searching for logical sentences.

There were also parallel advancements in the technology such as the development of a device by Bell Laboratories. This device was groundbreaking, as it could understand more than one person’s voice.


A major breakthrough was the development of the Hidden Markov Model. This system used statistics to determine the probability of a word originating from an unknown sound. It did not rely on speech patterns or fixed templates. Many of these programs made their way into industries and business applications.

A doll was also made for children in 1987. It was known as Julie and it could be trained by children to respond to their speech. But speech recognition systems of the 80’s had one flaw – You had to take a break between each spoken word.


With the introduction of faster microprocessors, voice recognition technology became feasible. In 1990, the company Dragon released Dragon Dictate which was the world’s first voice recognition system for consumers. In 1997, they improved it and developed Dragon NaturallySpeaking. With this solutions users could speak 100 words per minute.

In 1996, the first voice activated portal (VAL) was made by BellSouth. However, this system is inaccurate and still is a nuisance for many people.


By 2001, speech recognition technology development had hit a plateau, until Google came along. Google invented an application called Google Voice Search which utilized data centers to compute the enormous amount of data analysis needed for matching user queries with actual examples of human speech.

In 2010, Google introduced personalized recognition on Android devices which would record different users voice queries to develop an enhanced speech model. It consists of 230,000,000,000 English words. Eventually, Apple’s Siri was invented which relied on cloud computing as well.


While smart phones and devices have done their fair share to usher in the age of voice recognition, there are still kinks to work out.

Individualized voice recognition alone is a feature that is still relatively unfinished. Accents and dialects are vast and varied, making it a continual challenge to perfect the technology.

Even so, with how well it does work now, it’s not surprising futurists are predicting voice recognition technology to continue to get better in the future.