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The 2012 Speech Luminaries

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The Voice of Reason:
Roberto Pieraccini, director, International Computer Science Institute

Roberto Pieraccini is best known for his original contributions to statistical methods for spoken language understanding, multimodal interactions, and machine learning for spoken dialogue systems, so it came as no surprise when he was named director of the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) earlier this year. ICSI, an independent research organization loosely affiliated with the University of California–Berkeley, is largely dedicated to computer networking, routing, and security; speech recognition; spoken and text-based natural language processing; computer architecture and vision; artificial intelligence; and biological system modeling.
What was surprising was his departure from SpeechCycle, where he’d served as chief technology officer since 2005. At SpeechCycle, Pieraccini was instrumental in some of the most recent advancements in spoken dialogue interaction and mobile technology.
Previously, Pieraccini was a research staff member at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center, a director of research and development at SpeechWorks International, and on the technical staff at Bell Labs and AT&T’s Shannon Laboratories. He started his career as a researcher at CSELT, the research laboratories of the Italian telephone company. He is an active member of the Applied Voice Input/Output Society (AVIOS) and a fellow at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Speech Communication Association.
Pieraccini drew on his experience and research to write The Voice in the Machine: Building Computers That Understand Speech, published in April by MIT Press. That book (excerpted in Speech Technology’s May/June 2012 issue) is hailed by many as a wake-up call to the speech industry, which Pieraccini concludes has yet to master human-computer interactions. After 60 years, he says, we do not have a system that can rival HAL, Stanley Kubrick’s supercomputer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, for its ability to recognize and understand human speech and respond appropriately. However, in the book, he argues that technology shoud be created to “expand the capabilities of human beings, not to imitate them.”
With Pieraccini at the helm of ICSI, he’ll undoubtedly continue to play a significant role in facilitating this effort. “[ICSI] brings together incredibly talented world-class computer scientists, including some of the most widely cited senior and accomplished younger researchers, to tackle some of our society’s most pressing intellectual challenges,” Pieraccini said at the time of his appointment in February. 

The Smart Shopper:
Paul Ricci, chairman and CEO, Nuance Communications
Between aggressive acquisitions, an ambitious developer program, consumer integrations, and international expansion of Dragon Dictation and Search, Nuance Communications continues to be a powerhouse
in speech.
Led by Paul Ricci, who was named company CEO in September 2000 and has served as chairman of the board since 1999, this year Nuance acquired companies such as Vlingo, Loquendo, SVOX, Webmedx, Swype, and Transcend Services.
The Loquendo buy—valued at $75.5 million—gave Nuance a broad range of speech technologies for telephony, mobile, automotive, embedded, and desktop solutions available in 32 languages with 76 voices, using its text-to-speech, automatic speech recognition, and voice biometrics solutions.
“Virtually every mobile and consumer electronics company…is looking for ways to integrate natural, conversational voice interactions into their mobile products, applications, and services,” said Mike Thompson, senior vice president and general manager at Nuance Mobile, at the time of the Vlingo acquisition. “By acquiring Vlingo, we are able to accelerate the pace of innovation to meet this demand.” Nuance estimated the explosion of interest in the voice-enabled capabilities and virtual assistants created a $5 billion market opportunity.
Toward that end, the company announced several consumer plays. In January, Nuance unveiled Dragon TV, a voice and natural language understanding platform for TV, as well as set-top box OEMs and service operators.
In addition, the eight largest handset manufacturers use Nuance solutions. Its voice-to-text voice messaging services have been used worldwide by more than 40 million users. The world’s top 10 car makers are Nuance customers.
Nuance also expanded its presence in the healthcare arena. More than 10,000 healthcare organizations and 450,000 physicians worldwide use Nuance clinical documentation solutions. The acquisition of Transcend Services, a provider of medical transcription and speech editing services, will bolster those figures.
“Nuance has invested considerable resources on acquisitions, research, and development,” says Dan Miller, senior analyst and founder at Opus Research. “No other single technology provider can rival its scope. These are foundational to creating the next generation of mobile user
interfaces.”