Market Spotlight: Government
Across the world, speech technology companies are stepping up their research and development around voice biometrics solutions at the request of many federal, state, and local governments for homeland security and law enforcement.
“When voice biometrics really ‘pops,’ government will be behind it,” says Dan Miller, senior analyst and founder of Opus Research. “Law enforcement and government are fueling a very quiet market right now.”
The lack of noise aside, Miller points to a “significant amount of investment” in government projects to do speaker identification, speaker verification, speech-to-speech translation, language identification, and transcription of audio from phone taps.
“Government money is flowing into researching voice biometrics,” he states. “There are a lot of areas where the government is investing.”
In England, for example, VoxGen, a provider of self-service automation solutions, has been awarded a grant of £300,000 ($481,000) from the U.K. Technology Strategy Board to research, develop, and enhance voice biometrics to support consumer identification and verification technologies.
VoxGen will be working with its consortium partners, Mydex Data Services and Latitude Partners, to enhance the traditional approach to voice biometrics by adding a second factor—personal knowledge—to its verification process. VoxGen will develop a statistically rigorous probabilistic reasoning system to combine those two incongruent data points.
“Consumers increasingly want reassurance from organizations that their personal data is secure,” Pierce Buckley, head of products at VoxGen, said in a statement. “For the private and public sector alike, it’s now an economic imperative to have the technological capabilities to identify and verify consumers quickly, conveniently, and, most importantly, securely.”
In Australia, the Department of the Prime Minister, under the Research Support for Counter-Terrorism Program, has been sponsoring the Biometric Vulnerability Assessment Project since 2007 to develop a principled assessment methodology for the vulnerability of biometric systems to deliberate attack by impostors. The main outcomes will be a general methodology for the assessment of biometric systems vulnerability and a specific methodology applicable to a chosen biometric, outlining the capability to test and report on the vulnerability of any individual system, including suggested countermeasures to identified risks.
In Mexico, Russian company Speech Technology Center (STC) has been working for eight years with the government to merge forensic technologies and voice biometrics for speaker identification.
The resulting voice identification system, which the company deployed about a year ago, is being used by more than 250 local and federal law enforcement agencies across the country to match unknown voice samples to a database of known voiceprints to track down criminals. The platform can compare short utterances recorded over various channels (microphone or landline, mobile, and IP phones) regardless of the gender, age, language, or accent of the speaker.
Though many other voice biometrics vendors have been engaged in similar projects with other governments, the Mexican deployment is the largest known speaker identification project to date.
STC’s CEO, Michael Khitrov, calls it “a landmark deployment in the voice biometric industry,” and says the impact of this project “is difficult to overestimate.”
As a result of that project, voice biometrics is expected to gain recognition as a proven identification method with a real-life track record. STC is already negotiating with a number of other governments in Latin America, Europe, and Asia in an effort to deploy similar systems.
Growing demand for voice biometrics in general and voice-based identification in particular signals an emergence of a new market segment with a potential to grow to a $500 million industry in a very short time, according to many industry watchdogs.
“There’s a lot that companies like Loquendo, Speech Technology Center, and PerSay [which is now part of Nuance Communications] have been doing for governments for covert operations and surveillance,” comments Judith Markowitz, president of J. Markowitz Consultants. “It’s been going on for a long time—you just don’t hear about it.”
Government uses of the technology “are much further along then they are letting on and much more advanced than what we’re seeing in the commercial world,” Miller concludes.
News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.