• January 1, 1999
  • By Lizanne Kaiser Customer Experience Designer - Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories
  • Features

SpeechTEK 98: Leading Edge Technology Meets Mainstream Business at SpeechTEK 98

The growing importance and acceptance of speech processing technologies was on display at the most recent SpeechTEK conference and exhibition in New York City. Over 2,000 attendees took part in the fourth annual two day event, seeing and hearing demonstrations of speech recognition, text-to-speech, noise cancellation, speech in IVR systems, and speech over the Internet. The two-day conference and exhibition was sponsored by IBM, Lernout & Hauspie, Philips Speech Systems, and Unisys. SpeechTEK bills itself as a forum where leading edge technology meets mainstream business, and this year’s SpeechTEK certainly attracted buyers from among America's top corporations : Allstate, American Express, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, Eastman Kodak, Fidelity Investment, GTE, Merrill Lynch, United Parcel Service, and United Airlines. Government agencies such as the City of New York, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Department of Defense also sent representatives. Co-keynote speaker William "Ozzie" Osborne, general manager of IBM Speech Systems, set the tone by praising the industry for the rapid growth of speech technology and discussed how speech, while still in its infancy, is likely to soon become the primary interface between people and machines. "The Jetsons, HAL and Star Trek told us what to do, but the devil's in the details," he said, making the analogy that speech has made it to Everest base camp, with the summit in sight. "SpeechTEK was a must-attend for developers and end-users interested in how machines deal with humans in human terms, rather than in machine terms," said Al W. Waddill, director of investor relations, fonix systems corporation. Co-keynoter William A. Bautz, chief technology officer of the New York Stock Exchange, said he was encouraged by a pilot program on the trading floor of the NYSE, where noise levels can exceed 100 db in active trading. He predicated that in a few years 1,500 traders could be using speech, assuming the industry can supply products that offer natural speech, accuracy with dialects and accents, large vocabularies, and easy error correction, among other capabilities tailored to the demanding trading floor environment. Philips, Unisys Sign Agreement
Unisys and Philips announced a major agreement at the show, allowing Unisys to resell and integrate Philips’ ASR engine with Unisys Natural Language Understanding technology, opening new markets for both companies. As part of the agreement, Unisys will integrate the Philips ASR, Speech PearlTM , into its NL Speech Assistant Toolkit. "This agreement reinforces Philips strategy of partnering with the leading-edge speech solution providers to become the dominant supplier of natural speech technologies," explained Paul Celen, COO of Philips Speech Processing. "This partnership enables both Unisys and Philips to develop and drive the latest speech recognition technologies in the telecommunications marketplace." With the agreement, Philips becomes the inaugural member of the new Unisys ASR Reseller Program. By pre-integrating the NL Speech Assistant with a range of different ASR engines and IVR platforms, Unisys hopes to provide developers with an off-the-shelf package of tools to create spoken language applications across platforms and recognizers. "Unisys strives to inject new ideas and development into this market," said Joe Yaworski, vice president and general manager of the Natural Language Understanding program at Unisys. "This program changes the buying requirements, as well as the upfront knowledge and effort necessary to build speech-based applications. We think this offering, with reputable program members like Philips, will jump start the development and deployment of speech applications. Standards and Headsets
Sun Microsystems announced its Java Speech API 1.0 at the conference. IBM and Lernout & Hauspie have already implemented the API in their speech recognition engines. The Java API will spur development of speech recognition applications by allowing developers to write Java applications that take advantage of underlying speech-recognition technology, according to Andrew Hunt, Sun’s principal investigator for speech applications. The show also featured headset and microphone manufacturers, several of whom are also beginning to offer alternatives to the headset. Telex showed its new Aria microphone, a desktop distant microphone which allows for speech dictation users to dictate to their computers without wearing a headset. Also, Andrea Electronics demonstrated their new far field microphone technology, Digital Super Directional Array (DSDA), which uses an array of microphones and DSP processing to control acoustic signals and frees users from being tethered to the computer. Speech on the internet was a topic of great interest on the exhibit hall floor and in conferences, as well as among media covering the show. One company, Speech Solutions announced SPOTwTM (Speech On The web), a developers kit that makes using speech recognition on the website fast and simple. SPOTw "reads" the HTML or DHTML languages that are used for the website. Some text instructions tell SPOTw the speech activity for that page. Clients or prospective customers are able to manipulate and converse with a company’s web page in real time. If a command or a question is not visible on the screen, the client can ask "What can I say?" and a list of available phrases will be displayed. Peak Performance
The speech industry's first "Peak Performance" Awards, sponsored by SpeechTEK, were announced on Oct. 27. The new award program honored leading companies that are significantly advancing the development of the speech processing industry. The Winners were:
Andrea Electronics
Dragon Systems
Emkay Innovative Products
Lernout & Hauspie
Lucent Technologies
Philips Speech Processing
Phonetic Systems
In presenting the awards, Brian Lewis, editor of Speech Technology magazine, said "These companies have introduced breakthrough technologies that will soon impact millions of mainstream users around the world." Many exhibitors praised the value of a speech-only trade show. "This is our second year at SpeechTEK and we've seen key customers that we work with, including PC OEM'S and developers. For a company like ours that supplies computer headsets and microphones, we need to be where attendees are either customers or prime prospects," said Deborah Haupert, marketing communications manager, Telex Corporation. SpeechTEK '99 is scheduled for Oct. 26-27, 1999, once again at the New York Hilton & Towers.

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