Nuance and IBM Team to Advance Next-Generation Natural Language Speech Technology

Nuance Communications and IBM have entered into a five-year joint-research initiative designed to advance next-generation natural language speech technologies and address other fundamental challenges within the speech technology arena.

This research partnership, which brings together scientists from both Nuance and IBM, is designed to expand the global use of speech technology and set new benchmarks in design, usability, and technical excellence. Among the areas to be considered are the robustness and accuracy of speech recognition and text-to-speech technologies, expanding speech to a greater number of environments, and developing use cases, especially in mobile and automotive sectors, according to Vlad Sejnoha, chief scientist at Nuance.

“Essentially, we’re looking to improve the fundamental quality of speech technologies to better serve more people,” Sejnoha says.

He outlines that the research partnership will place an emphasis on natural language processing for customer interactions, “moving text-to-speech to a higher level of naturalness, making it sound more human-like.”

IBM and Nuance have a long history of partnerships in the use and development of speech technologies. In January 2009, IBM sold many of its speech patents, source codes, licenses, and related technical service agreements to Nuance. Then in July 2009, IBM named Nuance as its preferred business partner for speech technologies and related goods and services to a number of industries.

“This is a great time for the industry. There’s more demand for speech on a lot of devices,” Sejnoha says, noting that those trends are being driven by increased computing power, bandwidth, and data storage capabilities.

“This is about research and advancing the state of the art,” Sejnoha says. “By aligning with IBM, we’re reaching critical mass of research. This is the largest collection of researchers working on projects of this magnitude.”

The partnership has already produced results, according to Sejnoha. “We’re already seeing benefits in our product lines with increased accuracy. Our hosted services already in place have continued these process improvements.”

“Speech technology already enables highly intuitive interactions, but there is still significant potential for the development and availability of next-generation speech solutions that allow people to communicate with machines in a natural, unconstrained fashion,” said Paul Ricci, chairman and CEO of Nuance, in a statement. “The expanded collaboration between Nuance and IBM will deliver an inspiring portfolio of speech innovations that can accelerate the proliferation of speech across global industries. With IBM and Nuance working together, our objectives are within reach and we are well on our way to the day when people will interact with machines just as they would with another person.”

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