Amazon Textract adds handwriting recognition and support for new languages

Amazon today announced small enhancements to Textract, its service that extracts printed text and other data from documents, as well as tables and forms, using machine learning. As of today, Textract now supports handwriting in English documents, in addition to files typed in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and Italian.

Amazon rightly notes that many documents, like medical intake forms or employment applications, contain a combination of handwritten and printed text. While rivals like Google and Amazon have offered handwriting recognition-as-a-service for some time, Amazon says customer requests spurred the launch of its own solution, which works with both free-form text and text embedded in tables and forms.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers can use the Textract handwriting recognition feature in conjunction with Amazon’s Augmented AI (A2I) for improved performance. A2I lets users build workflows for human review of the machine learning system’s predictions, either by employees or AWS Marketplace contractors. Documents can be uploaded on the Amazon Textract console or sent using the AWS Command Line Interface or AWS software development kits.

New features aside, Textract remains less holistic than Google’s newly launched Document AI (DocAI) platform, a console for document processing hosted in Google Cloud. It supports the creation and customization of processing workflows built with a predefined taxonomy without the need to perform additional data mapping or training. DocAI offers general processors, including a form parser, W9 parser, optical character recognition, document splitter, and custom workflows for domain-specific documents. The parsers can classify information in documents like addresses, account numbers, and signatures, as well as extracting data like supplier names, invoice dates, and payment terms.

Companies spend an average of $20 to file and store a single document, according to some estimates, and only 18% of companies consider themselves paperless. An IDC report revealed that document-related challenges account for a 21.3% productivity loss, and U.S. companies waste a collective $8 billion annually managing paperwork. Beyond AI-powered products from tech giants like Amazon and Google, this has given rise to a cottage industry, with startups like Rossum, Anvil, PandaDoc, and others competing on document processing accuracy and pricing.

Amazon also announced updates to Amazon Lex and Amazon Polly earlier this week. Lex, a platform for building conversational interfaces, newly supports French, Spanish, Italian, and Canadian French. Polly, which turns text into lifelike speech, now features Amazon’s first Australian English voice, Olivia, synthesized with the same neural text-to-speech technology powering Amazon’s Brand Voice service.

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