Q&A: Walter Rolandi Talks Dialog Development Tools

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Times, they are a-changing—and nowhere is that truer than in any tech space. Even developers can get whiplash trying to keep up with the latest and greatest advances in their particular niches. With that in mind, Speech Technology magazine interviewed Walter Rolandi, Ph.D. of The Voice User Interface Company, to talk about new dialog development tools versus traditional speech IVR technologies and how they measure up.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about traditional speech IVR technologies? 

A: Traditional ASR applications employ specific grammars in every interactive state.  The recognizer can recognize only what the VUI designer includes in the grammar. Any other user utterance made in the state will generate an error. In this sense, traditional ASR applications can be fairly brittle.  

Q: How are dialog development tools changing and why?

A:  The traditional way of creating a dialog, especially the traditional way of specifying what is to be recognized is undergoing a fundamental change.

Q: What are the primary differences between the “old” and “new” tools?

A: Older tools permit designers to specify and test specific entries in a grammar. More modern tools allow designers to provide examples of the sorts of things that should be recognized in a particular application. The examples are associated with a particular “intent.” Using artificial intelligence technologies, modern tools can generalize the examples and allow thousands of alternative ways to recognize that same intent.

Q: What do you see as the advantages of newer dialog development tools?

A: The single greatest advantage of the new approach is its tolerance of vastly variable ways of saying things. This can make a dialog not only sound more natural but it can also dramatically reduce the incidence of setbacks in the user experience due to speech recognition failures.

Q: Are there any disadvantages?

A: There is definitely a learning curve. Instead of specifically defining exactly what will be recognized, the VUI designer must learn to “train” the application to “fire” when a particular “intent” is evoked.

Q: When a company is looking for a new tool to work with, what should they consider before making a commitment?

A: They should ensure that they can approach the task with an open mind and willingness to adopt a different development paradigm.

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