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Igor Jablokov, Program Director, Speech & Multimodal Technologies, IBM Pervasive Computing

Q&A with Igor Jablokov, program director, Speech and Multimodal Technologies, IBM Pervasive Computing. Igor discusses the project in which he supervised a team of IBM Extreme Blue interns who worked on a multimodal application aimed at service providers and enterprises.
Posted Aug 1, 2004
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Q. Tell us about the Extreme Blue Intern Program. A. This year, Extreme Blue, IBM's premier intern program, will celebrate its six-year anniversary.  In just a few years, the program has grown from a summer internship in Cambridge , Massachusetts with just 25 students to a worldwide program that draws almost 200 top interns.  And to put into perspective how prestigious Extreme Blue is among college students - this year, IBM had over 4500 applications for just under 200 available positions.   Extreme Blue teams are like mini-businesses that must solve a problem or create a solution for a client.  The interns work in small project teams that include business and technical students, along with IBM mentors.  This combination creates a team dynamic that fosters collaboration and helps the interns create both a business and technical case for their project.  IBM mentors work with each team and serve as guides to help them identify and access appropriate IBM resources to produce better solutions.   Extreme Blue is a combination of great talent and cutting edge technology that breeds innovation. Through the program, this summer college interns are expected to submit well over 50 patent disclosures, helping to create solutions for key clients and bring-to-market the next generation of IBM products.   Q. Why did IBM start this program? A. IBM started the Extreme Blue program during the dot com boom in the late nineties.  It was a time when majority of the top students seemed more interested in working for a start up than with IBM.  In order to compete for those top students, we created a team-based intern program that gave these students the flexibility to really tackle a problem on their terms, using the resources available within IBM.  These students are not relegated to work on outdated technology.  Instead, they are allowed to really work on cutting edge technology - grid computing, autonomic computing, pervasive computing, Web services, Linux, Java, and Eclipse.   Clearly the program is resonating with students.  More than 4500 students vied for almost 200 Extreme Blue internships available this year.  By attracting a remarkably skilled group of technical and MBA interns, this program compliments and mirrors the hiring activities across the IBM organization.   Q. What will the participants get out of their participation? A. Unlike other intern programs that may relegate a student to work on outdated technology, Extreme Blue allows interns to work on leading technology that helps grow their skills and makes them a more attractive candidate in the technology field.  Interns in this high performance environment get to roll up their sleeves and work with technologies including Linux, Grid computing, autonomic computing and Web Services.  The experience fosters key skills development around open, standards-based technology, which is where we see the growth and future demand as these students look for new positions when they graduate.   Q. How do participants get selected? A. One of the industry's leading intern programs, Extreme Blue has a very competitive selection process. The criteria for this program are dependent on the projects that the students will be working on during the session. The team pinpoints the specific skill sets that will be needed for each project.   After the team initially reviews the applications, they capture the candidates that have the required skills.  Candidates go through several rounds of telephone interviews and are also required to provide essays that give the IBM team insight into their preferences, experiences and communication skills.  After going through this process, the Extreme Blue leadership team sits down and matches applicants to projects based on a student's skill set and preferences.   Q. Will there be any emphasis on speech technology with this year's program and if so, could you describe the speech technology component? A. Speech is an important area for IBM and a key project in this year's program is a speech-in, speech-out interface to data services on mobile devices. By using IBM's speech recognition and TTS technologies, the Extreme Blue team was able to develop a solution around enabling easier, convenient, mobile, Web browsing using multimodal technology. Most devices, however, provide small visual and tactile interfaces making data access slow and difficult. Therefore accessing data services while driving, walking, or doing other activities that people generally associate with using a cell phone is almost impossible.   The IBM multimodal technology enhances this interface by adding speech to traditional Web applications. By utilizing voice recognition algorithms and advanced text-to-speech software, the IBM multimodal technology provides a speech-in, speech-out interface to mobile devices. Using a cellular phone equipped with a multimodal browser you can use your phone to literally speak to the Internet. This enables easier, faster, and safer access to driving directions, financial services, weather, movies, shopping, and entirely new applications made possible by this IBM technology.   Called Outspoken, the project addressed the challenge of accessing data via devices that have small visual and tactile interfaces.  Using the resources provided to them through the program, the Extreme Blue team created a complete end-to-end application using multimodal specification X+V, comprising XHTML and VoiceXML. This project will be used as proof of concept for service providers and enterprises.   Consider a group of young adults making their weekend plans, needing to access Web information on the move. This application enables users to access Web information such as movie information and theater directions on a smartphone - using a combination of input and output methods such as speech, keypads and graphical displays. For instance, it's more convenient to read a list of movies than to hear it over the phone - the same with getting directions on a map rather than verbally; tickets can also be ordered in the same transaction.   Because Extreme Blue team comprises an MBA student and "techies", the team also had to think through the business applications and a business model for service providers and enterprises, and write up and present a business plan that would make this a viable business proposition. This emphasis on combining business and technical skills will be key in grooming the technology worker entering the job market. IBM's other academic programs, such as its recently announced partnership with Northface University in Utah , also emphasize the combination of business knowledge with technology - so that students are able to bring more real-world skills into their work.   Q. What are some past technology outcomes from the student participation? A. These project teams drive impressive results in twelve short weeks.  For example, one team from last summer helped bring the power of Grid computing to multiplayer on-line games by launching a successful in-house Quake II demonstration that is now being shown to new IBM customers.  At its peak, about 100 researchers played simultaneously using the team's scalable infrastructure.  Another team leveraged the Business Process Execution Language--and the latest in Web services specifications--to work with an IBM customer to define supply chain requirements and deliver a proof-of-concept demonstration that automatically reacts to future market opportunities and threats.   Q. What are some of the technology outcomes from this year's participation? A. This summer the Extreme Blue students will file well over 50 patent submissions - so that shows the level of innovation associated with the projects.  There were so many impressive results from this year's summer interns.  For example, one team helped bring the power of Web services to small and medium size business, while another team created a completely new demand-based pricing model for the Energy and Utility industry.  The new pricing model moves away from the flat rate fees that companies currently use and allow them to charge customers based on their demand, reducing the incidence of blackouts and saving the utility companies billions of dollars in wholesale energy costs.  This summer there were 44 cutting edge projects led by students in a variety of locations, including Cambridge , MA , Raleigh , NC , Austin , TX , Almaden , CA and Toronto , Canada .   Q. Any surprises you would like to share with us? A. The students came from highly diverse backgrounds and the social aspect of the application allowed them to use their respective talents in the design process, which became a significant bonus.  The students, while having no prior knowledge of how to design and implement speech enabled applications, were able to come up to speed in very short order, a key value proposition of the recent enhancements in IBM's Eclipse-based Multimodal Toolkit for WebSphere Studio.  They became a high performance team that created an easy to use mobile social networking application that they could interact with on a daily basis using the latest in open technologies, and had fun in the process. What more could you ask?

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