Thursday, June 05, 2008

Long-Promised, Voice Commands Are Finally Going Mainstream

Speech technology getting more usable ...

"Speech technology has long languished in the no-man's land between sci-fi fantasy ("Computer, engage warp drive!") and disappointing reality ("For further assistance, please say or press 1 ...").

But that's about to change, as advances in computing power make voice recognition the next big thing in electronic security and user-interface design.

A whole host of highly advanced speech technologies, including emotion and lie detection, are moving from the lab to the marketplace.

"This is not a new technology," says Daniel Hong, an analyst at Datamonitor who specializes in speech technology. "But it took a long time for Moore's Law to make it viable."

Hong estimates that the speech technology market is worth more than $2 billion, with plenty of growth in embedded and network apps.

It's about time. Speech technology has been around since the 1950s, but only recently have computer processors grown powerful enough to handle the complex algorithms that are required to recognize human speech with enough accuracy to be useful.

There are already several capable voice-controlled technologies on the market. You can issue spoken commands to devices like Motorola's Mobile TV DH01n, a mobile TV with navigation capabilities, and TomTom's GO 920 GPS navigation boxes. Microsoft recently announced a deal to slip voice-activation software into cars manufactured by Hyundai and Kia, and its TellMe division is investigating voice-recognition applications for the iPhone. And Indesit, Europe's second-largest home appliances manufacturer, just introduced the world's first voice-controlled oven.

Yet as promising as this year's crop of voice-activated gadgets may be, they're just the beginning.

Speech technology comes in several flavors, including the speech recognition that drives voice-activated mobile devices; network systems that power automated call centers; and PC applications like the MacSpeech Dictate transcription software I'm using to write this article.

Voice biometrics is a particularly hot area. Every individual has a unique voice print that is determined by the physical characteristics of his or her vocal tract. By analyzing speech samples for telltale acoustic features, voice biometrics can verify a speaker's identity either in person or over the phone, without the specialized hardware required for fingerprint or retinal scanning."    (Continued via Wired Magazine)    [Usability Resources]

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