That time a rando told Thomas Edison that he should invent a speech-to-text engine


Originally published at:


If they’d written to Tesla instead we’d probably all be enslaved by superintelligent AIs by now.


That’s a pretty tactful response to a ‘user who doesn’t even know what is trivial, what is doable; and what is wholly unfeasible’ suggestion.

Those can require a lot of tact.


Headline has it backwards. Should be speech-to-text, not text-to-speech (which could have been at least theoretically feasible at the time).


Would have sounded like Stephen Hawking, tho.


Unlikely. With tech at the time, it would have have been recordings of someone actually reading things.


If only Edison had known he could have replied Mr Stern, you are exactly 100 years too early.


I’m enjoying imagining what an attempt at this would look like…

A building full of Babbage machinery and phonographs might be able to handle the output, but I’m stumped as to what you could muster for the input…


In an era of cheap labor, just use a secretary for speech-to-text (“Mabel, take a letter”).


A… a… WOMAN as a secretary? Are you quite mad?! That, sir, is a job for a dependable and unimaginative chap from the clerical class.


Gadzooks! No, shes from the typing pool and I’ve been training her for my own amusement and to show her off at the club (twists moustache fiendishly).


baudot code punched tape like early teletypes of the time?


Theoretically, like this:


Well of course Edison would never get it done with that attitude.



I’m not sure whether the author was being sarcastic with the headline “When Edison chose not to invent speech-to-text tech”, but in case they weren’t, invention is not 1% inspiration and 99% just deciding to do it…


By 1911, Tesla was indentured to J.P. Morgan any ideas Tesla had belonged to Morgan. Edison was financed by Morgan as well although enjoyed a greater amount of latitude then his counterpart Tesla.


I have to give credit to Edison - his statement was absolutely correct.


The ‘what if’ possibilities are fun, akin to Gibson & Sterling’s “The Difference Engine” alternate history.


I am having more fun imagining how Alan Turing would have gone about it. His first problem would have been storage and cache. He could play voice samples from phonographs, possibly cylinders with continuous parallel tracks, so he has a signal to compare the incoming signal with but then he need to do some sort of real time fast Fourier transform on both inputs, and compare the outputs.

But then maybe do the FFS once on the samples and bake them in to the comparator with patch leads. He still has a technical problem of storing up to a second of audio while the transform is done.

I am fairly confident that Turing could have got it working, but no, probably not Edison or Tesla.


We could have had Edison vs Tesla digital assistant wars.