AT&T's Watson Answers the Call

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recognition, Interactions' applications leverage...its own human-assisted understanding in conjunction with the Watson ASR engine," Iacobucci says. "We found Watson to be the most advanced, sophisticated ASR engine that we could leverage [more] than other ASR engines that we explored."

Developers need such sophisticated virtual assistants to recognize an open vocabulary, and not one that is suited just for retail or music, for example, Gilbert says. "You want natural language to go beyond recognizing entities, attributes, and intents," he says. "You want it to recognize context of words and phrases given a particular transaction. You have to include things like different kinds of parsing. These are all intelligence that you have to do as part of natural language."

Iacobucci says the company has found its partnership with AT&T is not only strong technically, but also that AT&T has been very supportive of its endeavors.

"This is really far more than a technical partnership," Iacobucci says. "Together we're building some really sophisticated, high-performing applications and delivering on the promise of speech recognition systems that are providing a great customer experience, and we're doing that hundreds of millions of times a year."


SpeakToIt is the creator of an intelligent virtual assistant for smartphones and tablets, and employs a team of 25 linguists and software engineers. The company's technology uses human-machine interfaces based on natural language interaction and predictive assistance. Its mobile application, SpeakToIt Assistant, has been downloaded more than 9 million times, most of which have been for Google's Android operating system, according to Artem Goncharuk, the company's chief technical officer.

SpeakToIt's intelligent virtual assistant can update statuses on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook; access content from sites such as Google, Trip Advisor, Yelp, or Foursquare; shop on sites such as Amazon; and update calendars and notes using Evernote. The virtual assistant supports English, Spanish, German, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and will support French, Japanese, and Korean by the end of the year. The company relaunched the virtual assistant in December with compatibility for iOS7.

While the SpeakToIt Assistant sounds a lot like Apple's Siri, there are some distinctions, Goncharuk explains. "The SpeakToIt solution is cross platform, so you can use the same assistant based on your preferences and context on different devices. You can use the same assistant on your Android phone or iPad or in your car, for example."

According to Ilya Gelfenbeyn, CEO of SpeakToIt, the company initially started out on Android using Google's ASR. For iOS, SpeakToIt tried Nuance briefly and then switched to Watson. "We use a number of solutions depending on the platform and typically with a solution that's native to the platform," Gelfenbeyn says. "However, there are a number of solutions where ASR is not available, and in that case we use Watson."

Gelfenbeyn says that Watson offers the company the capability to do customer grammars and adjust the recognizers dynamically. "It allows us to do pretty neat things for personalization," he says. "We are looking forward to getting more options for recognizers in terms of languages and also accents.

"For us, it's a great solution in terms of flexibility," Gelfenbeyn says. "Our experience was extremely positive with the support the AT&T speech team and the API team has provided."

The End Game

Between its strategic partnerships, licensing agreements, and developer platform, it looks like the use of Watson's platform will continue to grow, especially considering that using speech is still a relatively novel concept in the world of business, aside from the call center.

"A lot of companies are still in the stage where they're trying to decide what they want to do with speech in a mobile environment," Dahl says. "They might think, 'Well, this is great, but how can it apply to my company?'"

If Gilbert has his way, that question will be answered from the thousands of developers using AT&T's APIs.

"I'm very excited [about] where we are," Gilbert says. "We're investing heavily into all these different areas. We're not trying to be the best speech company in the world, but we're using our partners and our assets to [better] position those that are in high, rapid-growth businesses."

Staff Writer Michele Masterson can be reached at mmasterson@infotoday.com.

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