On SpeechTEK's Third Day, Hollywood Challenges the Industry

NEW YORK—Hollywood hasn't always been kind to the speech industry, but it has been inspirational, panelists reported during an afternoon session Wednesday that closed this year's SpeechTEK conference here.

Speech technologies have been a part of pop culture and science fiction for many years, and though Hollywood's portrayal of it has often been less than favorable, it has been formative for the industry as a whole, according to Susan Hura, president of SpeechUsability and moderator of the panel.

The way speech has been presented in pop culture, from Star Trek to 2001: A Space Odyssey through to the recent movie Her, "has set user expectations for the technology," Hura said.

Jonathan Bloom, senior user interface manager at Nuance Communications noted that Hollywood has "inspired" a lot of what speech vendors have done so far, but has also "constrained" the industry in some ways.

"We want technology to better our lives, but in a lot of films it is vilified; it takes over our lives," he said.

Mary Parks, principal experience designer at Honeywell, says the problem is even more basic. "Speech in the movies makes it hard for us," she said. "Movies have so much more leeway with what the technology can do. The mental image is much more than the reality."

Hura noted that speech appears to do a lot more in films and TV because it is "the front end to a much larger [artificial intelligence] in the background that no one sees."

And then, speech is often the only interface that is seen, which is actually countercultural. "In real life, everything is going to multimodal," Bloom said, but in the film, it's all speech all the time."

Roberto Pieraccini, director of advanced communication technologies at Jibo, agreed, noting that speech is being used less and less, and when it is used, it's often a lot more subtle than what is presented on film.

But still, some good has come of all the attention the industry's gotten in pop culture. "It's bidirectional," said Dmitri Sityaev, senior speech scientist at Genesys. "The references to speech in pop culture inspire us, but they've also been inspired by us."

And it hasn't stopped. "What you're seeing in films now will eventually come out," Sityaev concluded.

And it will affect design decisions going forward. "As a designer, I feel responsible for creating things that people will feel that kind of connection to," Parks added.

Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC), an open-source platform that allows for video and voice communications across Web browsers, has also done a lot to push voice technologies forward, according to panelists at an earlier session.

Among the benefits, it has improved speech quality for call center, analytics, biometrics, and call recording applications, said 

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