For a century and a half, phoneticians have been measuring durations, frequencies, and other physical properties of speech sounds. At first they used purely mechanical devices; then they used electro-mechanical devices; and now they use programs running on general-purpose computers -- but in nearly all cases, each measurement still involves an act of human judgment. This adds a significant amount of labor to the cost-benefit analysis implicit in experimental design; and this in turn has tended to hold the field back, especially in taking advantage of the millions of hours of speech now becoming available.
There were some successful examples of large-scale automated phonetic measurement in the 1970s, and the relevant technology has improved enormously since then. However, it remains very rare for research in speech science to use automated measurement techniques, despite the obvious benefits of vastly increased productivity, potential access to large-scale naturalistic data, and reduction in the effects of experimenter bias. This talk will attempt to identify the reasons for this conservatism, and to discuss the prospects for overcoming them.