Disambiguate or Die

I first ran into the term “disambiguation” while hanging out with a few speech scientists at a speech technology industry conference. For them, it was serious business. When your product is speech recognition, the subtle phonetic differences between “Austin” and “Boston” can have a huge impact. Usually the fix is easy in theory, but can get dicey in practice. Asking a customer if they mean Texas or Massachusetts seems like the obvious thing to do, unless your customer is from Boston Township, Ohio, or Austin, Colorado. Not to mention that the average caller of a voice system is only going to tolerate a couple of “Did you mean _____?”s before they hang up or mash down so hard on the asterisk that they break a nail.

So the speech techies take disambiguation very seriously, but why should they have all the fun? I’ve never seen ambiguity listed as a desirable attribute for a brand, but clarity on the other hand is desirable. I like the term disambiguation because it implies a process for taking you from ambguity to meaning. It might take a few iterations, however, and you may only get a few tries before your customer hangs up.

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