FAIR DINKUM: Amazon wants an Australian linguist to teach it the local accent

Robert and Bindi Irwin on Family Feud USA, with host Steve Harvey. (YouTube/ABC TV Network)

Last week Google released its Home voice assistant device in Australia, bragging that it speaks and understands the local accent and idioms. Now, Amazon has apparently decided it needs to Aussie it up as well.

The tech giant has advertised a job vacancy at its Boston office for an Australian English linguist. The New York Times, which first reported the ad, suspected that the role would involve research for Amazon’s own voice interaction device, the Echo.

As voice commands become more common, tech companies have become increasingly aware of localising their products to make them usable in areas outside the United States. Google Home, at its Australian launch last week, was said to be able to understand what “brekkie” (breakfast) and “servo” (petrol station) meant, as well as speak and listen to the accent.

While the Amazon Echo speaker — powered by the Amazon Alexa voice assistant — is the market leader in the USA, Google landed the first punch in Australia with its recent launch of Home.

The new linguist job seems to indicate Amazon is taking the competition seriously, as it prepares to launch Australian operations with its first fulfilment centre in Melbourne.

The Australian accent can sometimes be troubling to American humans — let alone machines — to understand. The son of the late wildlife media personality Steve Irwin, Robert, famously went on Family Feud in the US last month and said the answer “car” – which host Steve Harvey could not decipher until intervention from Robert’s American-born mother Terri.

The New York Times also pointed out that a BBC comedy sketch depicting two Scottish men trapped in a voice-assisted elevator that can’t understand their cries for help has now received more than one million views.

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