• May 1, 2012
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Voice Biometrics Comes of Age

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. (Voice Biometrics Conference)—After several years of contemplating what is and what could be, voice biometrics is finally reaching a level of maturity and viability that is putting an end to all the guesswork, speakers at the April 3–4 Voice Biometrics Conference universally agreed.

"The technology works; it's overcome the organizational barriers, and it's being accepted by end users," said Dan Miller, senior analyst at Opus Research, which staged the conference.

In addition, companies have finally figured out how to use voice biometrics to provide real-world solutions, like fraud prevention, authentication, speedier and more personalized access to customer service, and convenience, Miller said.

The technology has gained wider acceptance following several large government projects, including a government program in Ecuador to capture the voiceprints of criminals when they are arrested. The voice biometric technology, provided by SpeechPro, a unit of the Speech Technology Center, was rolled out earlier this year. It already has collected tens of thousands of voiceprints and could store up to 1 million, according to Alexey Khitrov, president of SpeechPro USA.

In 2010, SpeechPro successfully deployed the world's first nationwide voice-based identification system for the government of Mexico. It remains the largest government project to date.

But a government program in Pakistan could overtake it. It uses VoiceTrust technology for a proof-of-life program related to government pensions and could potentially affect up to 10 million people, according to Amir Yazdanpanah, chief operating officer of VoiceTrust.

VoiceTrust is rolling out similar projects in Portugal, Italy, Poland, and Mexico.

"Government is seen as a real area of opportunity," Miller said.

Also helping the adoption and acceptability of the technology are several large private-sector projects, including Global Bilgi, a subsidiary of Turkcell, which currently stores about 4.5 million voiceprints from customers in Turkey and plans to have 8 million on file by the end of the year. The company, which is using Nuance Communications' VocalPassword application, lets customers access their accounts and conduct transactions over the phone following voice authentication. It is currently the largest deployment of voice biometrics technology in the world.

The medical field is another industry rife with opportunities for voice biometrics, particularly as it moves to meet government mandates for electronic health records (EHRs). The technology can be used for doctors and patients to log into personal health records and patient portals, and for doctors to electronically sign agreements, orders, and releases with their mobile phones, according to Travis True, vice president of business development at VoiceVault.

"There's a huge ecosystem of change with EHRs, and voice biometrics is right in there," True said.

"We know the technology works," said Jenny Burr, senior manager of professional services at Convergys, during one of the sessions. "But how you make it available to customers is what will move it forward."

Convergys, which recently conducted usability testing for voice biometrics, found that 77 percent of customers, when presented with the opportunity to verify their identities via an automated system, would prefer that to interacting with a live agent. "But the key to success is the user interface. You need to make the user understand what's going on and why, Burr suggested.

Also driving adoption is a greater push toward multifactor authentication, where "any voice biometric is part of a larger database of information," Khitrov explained. That multifactor database could include PINs and passwords, facial recognition, fingerprints, iris scans, and security questions, for example.

And while multifactor authentication will be the hot-button issue for the next few years, companies will continue to struggle with it, according to experts. "We need to redefine the problem," said Dean Lindstrom, founder and principal of Cyberstrom. "The problem is not with voice biometrics but storing and marrying the information with all the systems out there. It's not about building a better system, but integrating it."

Chuck Buffum, president of Buffum Consulting and former vice president of authentication solutions at Nuance, expects to see many more pilots, tests, and applications of the technology during the next three years. But there is one limitation: "Sometime, we'll be able to eliminate PINs and passwords entirely, but not by 2015," he said.

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