On the Scene: Speech TEK Europe 2010 — Speech Technologies Will Change the Web of the Future

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Thirteen “megatrends” are shaping the future of European speech, according to Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, who gave a keynote address at the recent SpeechTEK Europe conference in London.  

Wahlster, a member of the Nobel Prize selection committee and CEO of the German Research Center for AI, shared his vision of technology currently in development in laboratories and research institutes—technology he predicts will become a commercial reality in the next two to five years. 

Trends he identified included the move from cooperative speech to spontaneous speech, the change from monolingual to multilingual systems, the development from database transactions to problem-solving dialogues, and the transition from accessing the “Web of information” to the “Web of services.” 

Among the many examples Wahlster spotlighted was a system for multiparty diarization and tracking, currently in development by AMI Consortium. This technology could enable the transcription and automatic summary of a teleconference, identifying who spoke when, with whom, and about what. Wahlster described this as the “killer app for call centers” because it can deal with overlapped, non-native, accented, and spontaneous speech, and it provides just-in-time access to relevant documents or fragments of past conversations.

Other examples he cited included age and gender recognition capabilities for personalized call center service. This technology also can be applied to automotive applications, such as tailoring the presentation to the age of the driver when he first enters a rental car. 

Multimodal applications are becoming increasingly important, according to Wahlster, especially in the car. Research is now under way to look at how speech and eye gazes can be used together as input modalities to correct dictated speech messages while driving, for example. 

According to Wahlster, challenges facing the speech research community in the next 20 years include integrating top-down contextual knowledge into low-level speech recognition processes, and exploiting the growing knowledge about human communication strategies derived from psychological and neurolinguistic research. 

Author and strategist Charlie Leadbeater delivered the opening keynote at SpeechTEK Europe, during which he spoke about the importance of mobilizing customers as co-creators and innovators. The Web means consumers have access to a variety of social media tools that they can use to generate and share ideas, reviews, feedback, and product modifications. Dialogue with customers is vital for successful innovation, Leadbeater argued, and speech technology provides one method through which this dialogue can take place.  

Also at the event, the winners of SpeechTEK Europe’s Avatar Challenge were announced. Finalists in this new competition comprised seven avatars developed for use in a range of business applications, speaking a variety of languages, and using different text-to-speech engines, animation, and modeling techniques, from fantasy cartoons to realistic, human-like appearance. 

Voting took place in two separate polls for two prizes: the Experts’ Prize and the People’s Choice Award. Experts’ Prizes went to ejTalk and Humanity Interactive, and the People’s Choice Award went to H-Care.  In addition, a Judges’ Special Award was given to VoxWeb. 

The entries were judged by user interface experts, assisted by foreign language experts, using the following criteria: appearance and movement, voice expression, use of facial and body gestures, and voice, lip, and facial synchronization.

SpeechTEK Europe was launched to address the huge growth in speech innovation and implementation in Europe and, after the success of this first event, will run annually. The event comprised two days of conference sessions, with a day of practical, half-day preconference workshops covering the latest breed of speech technologies and their applications.  

SpeechTEK Europe welcomed hundreds of attendees from 25 countries throughout the Far East, Australasia, and North and South America, as well as the whole of Europe. Some of the most popular conference sessions discussed using video in customer service, voice biometrics, multilingual applications, new uses of text-to-speech synthesis, and speech recognition techniques and experiences. 

A sold-out exhibit hall ran in parallel to the conference, with sponsors including Voxeo, Autonomy, Avaya, Eckoh, Loquendo, NICE, Openstream, and Verint. 

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