What Makes Things Interesting?

I once read in the “Sociology of Science” that an experiment or fact that confirms what everyone already knows to be true is not interesting, it’s obvious. Something that claims to disconfirm what everyone knows to be true is not interesting, it’s ridiculous. But something that changes what you think is true is really interesting. One of the first interesting things I learned about speech applications came from an AVIOS conference. A presentation of trial results from a speech recognition banking application found that while novice users loved speech applications, power TouchTone users hated them. That was interesting (and new) at the time, although probably well known now. More recently, I’ve been working on open-ended applications that use statistical grammars. We have found it better to provide examples with an open question than simply to ask “How can I help you?” In the May 2002 issue of the International Journal of Speech Technology, a research team headed by Laurent Karsenty found that was true in other languages as well. It’s a cognitive, not a linguistic phenomenon. Hmm, I think that’s interesting. Jason Williams and his team at Edify received the Gary Poock Best Paper Award at the 2003 AVIOS conference for their work on “Evaluating real callers’ reactions to Open and Directed Strategy prompts.” They report interesting differences in effects of different prompts. Regardless of persona, completely open prompting resulted in a larger proportion of cooperative, but unclassifiable callers. Callers hearing an open-ended prompt were more likely to say things like, “Yes, Hello, I have a question.” I’ve noticed a lot of things I find interesting from a practical speech application context come out of AVIOS. That’s probably because AVIOS focuses on the practical aspects of how to make speech technology useful to real people. AVIOS is also the oldest user oriented organization in the world dedicated to voice technologies within the commercial arena. Since it began in 1981, AVIOS has concentrated on actual application related results that emphasize the perspective of the actual end-user. AVIOS builds a bridge between people involved with the successful deployment of interactive, voice driven technologies. Half-day tutorials on speech recognition, synthesis and UI design are always clear and information dense. They are the equivalent of a “guitar chord book” for people wanting to learn their way around our industry. For the last few years, the VoiceXML Forum has been held in conjunction with the AVIOS meetings. Within a few days, you could go to a tutorial to learn about speech technology, hear some of the best applied researchers describe their results and discuss how these things get included in the VoiceXML developer standards. What could be more interesting than that? Now AVIOS and SpeechTEK, the speech industry trade show, have allied with each other, so you can get all the practical, technical side of AVIOS along with the practical, commercial side of SpeechTEK. You can easily find out about applied speech technology and the industry it supports. The International Journal of Speech Technology (IJST), published jointly by AVIOS and Kluwer Academic Publishers, focuses on speech technology and its applications. It promotes research and description of all aspects of speech input and output, including theory, experiment, testing, base technology and applications. It’s the only journal that presents papers on both basic technology as well as all varieties of applications. Papers are accepted on any aspect of the speech technology field as it relates to real-world applications. Perhaps the only thing more interesting is how easy it is to be a part of all this. For $95 you can become a member of AVIOS, the only professional society dedicated to speech applications. You get the Journal (a $200 value), plus a discount on the AVIOS/SpeechTEK Conference, discounts of the industry’s best newsletters and the chance to become an interesting part of the speech community. If you find this interesting, you should find your way to AVIOS. Contact AVIOS:
Attn: Peggie Johnson
P.O. Box 20817, San Jose, CA 95160
Phone: 408-323-1783, Fax: 408-323-1782
E-mail: peggie@avios.com or go to the Web site at www.avios.org.
Richard Rosinski is the executive director, professional services, at Nortel Networks, and is vice president of the AVIOS board of directors. He can be reached at rosinski@nortelnetworks.com.
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