• November 10, 2014
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Smart Voice Alliance Launches

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Several technology manufacturers are trying to advance voice as the preferred interface for mobile devices. Chinese handset maker ZTE, Nuance Communications, multisensory hardware and software developer Audience, and other manufacturers have joined the Smart Voice Alliance to further this cause.

The Smart Voice Alliance's main purpose is to accelerate the migration from touch screens to voice as the preferred means for mobile phone users to command, control, and query their devices.

"The intent is to allow more and more companies to take advantage of a more standard approach to integrating voice into mobile devices," explains Dan Faulkner, senior vice president of mobile at Nuance. "The goal is to accelerate the development of the state of the art for accessing mobile devices in the most simple and useful way."

According to Faulkner, all of the alliance's members "share a common vision that voice will increasingly become the preferred interface for people to connect with their devices."

Though the companies involved are based in either China or the United States, Faulkner says the alliance will be not be bound by language or geography. Nuance's technology, for example, supports dozens of languages and dialects.

And though ZTE is involved, the alliance's goal is to advance technologies that work across devices and operating systems. "We want one common user experience that is independent of the device," Faulkner says.

To that end, ZTE in late September advanced a set of standard design principles that it calls the 5A Protocol, with the "A" standing for anyone, anyhow, anytime, anything, and anywhere.

"We want speech to be ubiquitous," Faulkner says. "It should be speaker-independent, with the same dependability regardless of who's using it."

The 5A Protocol also places emphasis on making speech usable in any setting or environment and supporting it with natural language understanding, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technologies that can understand and respond to the user's intent and context, according to Faulkner.

With the involvement of AutoNavi and Baidu in the Smart Voice Alliance, there is obviously an interest in using speech for navigation and search apps, but the alliance will focus on other use cases as well, according to Faulkner. The goal is to make speech the interface for the entire mobile Internet of Things, he says.

As for speech-based search, Baidu, the world's second largest search engine provider, has invested heavily in this area. And though only about 10 percent of all searches are done with voice today, the company's chief scientist and head of research, Andrew Ng, has predicted that within the next five years, half will involve voice or images.

"Voice control is the future of smart mobile phones, and it has already become ZTE's core strategy," said Adam Zeng Xuezhong, CEO of ZTE Mobile Devices and executive vice president of ZTE, in a statement. “However, the current mode of touch screen control is deeply rooted in the behavior of users. Change can only come when voice control becomes more practical."

Voice control, he added, "will without a doubt make touch-controlled devices a thing of the past. The new experience of voice control will give users a more convenient and intuitive tool for their everyday lives."

Nuance already had relationships with some of the vendors involved in the Smart Voice Alliance. In January 2013, Nuance announced a multiyear collaboration with ZTE that integrates its voice capabilities into several ZTE Android smartphones worldwide. The company also announced a strategic agreement with AutoNavi in April 2013 to bring its speech recognition and text-to-speech technologies to the AutoNavi Map solution. The most notable of those integrations has been in ZTE's Car Mode app, which enables mobile device users to access many of their phones' functions, including those for making phone calls, reading text messages, launching navigation apps, getting the local weather, and selecting music hands-free and eyes-free while in the car.

Nuance and ZTE "have a common vision around the applicability of voice," Faulkner says. "We're very pleased to see ZTE driving this initiative forward."

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