Voice Recognition Is Finally Starting to Make Sense

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Voice Recognition Is Finally Starting to Make Sense

Voice recognition software has been around for a long time but, according to Computing1 magazine, the number of potential users far outnumbers the actual users.

One reason is that voice recognition has developed a bad reputation. There was too much hype, and too little delivery on that hype. The technology simply didn’t work as advertised. And yet, there still appears to be a huge potential market out there for it.

Despite some high-profile failures and the relatively primitive uses to which the technology is being put to date, such as answering questions while checking flight status with an airline, there are some impressive efforts under way to perfect the technology and bring it front and center in your life and your business.

As noted on News.com,2 Toyota just signed a deal with a company called VoiceBox to develop a completely new type of voice technology that can comprehend conversational speech rather than memorized commands. More and more these days, the family automobile is becoming the staging area for entertainment technologies that require a lot of button pushing.

For example drivers use cell phones, satellite radio, personal digital assistants, DVD players, iPODs and GPS-based navigational devices. The keypads, buttons, and click wheels are all monopolizing the driver’s attention. Voice technology could free the driver to keep his hands on the wheel. That’s why VoiceBox is building a voice search capability for XM Satellite Radio, which has more than six million customers.

Starting later this year, VoiceBox technology will allow those subscribers to ask for traffic conditions, sports reports, stock quotes, and of course, regular programming.

VoiceBox is also working with Johnson Controls, one of the largest suppliers for auto-makers. They hope to bring the iPod under voice control this year.

VoiceBox was founded because traditional systems, such as the airline phone systems, contain a limited dictionary of commands with which you can say flight numbers and words like “Arrive” and “Depart.” But you cannot ask those systems questions as simple as, “Could you find me a better seat?” In addition, the existing systems often don’t even recognize the commands they are supposed to incorporate when certain users say them. They have trouble with different accents and with background noise.

Bob Kennewick, who founded VoiceBox in 2001 with his brother Mike, is a computer science and economics professor at Harvard. His aim is to create a system, called a natural language system, which recognizes conversational speech — and learns from the user...

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