Speech Reconnaissance: Natural Language

With last year's breakthrough releases in continuous speech products, one of the major challenges of speech technology was achieved. For some who have been chasing this dream for many years, 1997 was the culmination of an intensive effort. But another view is that continuous speech is just one more step on the road to natural language, or conversational technology. That is clearly the view held at one of the industry's key research facilities, IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center in upstate New York. Research pushing the boundaries of machine comprehension of speech continues even as the technology achieves acceptance. You can learn more about their recent efforts in our story beginning on page 12. The emergence of the JAVA Speech API could also be a critical step in the advance of speech technology, as it offers developers a chance to work with variety of platforms and vendors in developing speech applications. It is the subject of our cover story, beginning on page 6. The need for natural language may be even more apparent in the call center, where consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with having to use touch tone phones to get through an IVR maze. Speech clearly can allow companies to process incoming calls in a much more natural manner, as Richard Barchard points out in our article on page 26. We also examine a new trend in the speech recognition industry - subscribing to speech services, which gives prospects a chance to "test drive" the latest dictation software before making a decision to buy it. Many companies who may have balked at the idea of speech technology in the past now can find out for themselves how effective it can be. Our story beginning on page 42 lets you know who the key players in this field are. One of the most important markets in the speech recognition industry involves bringing the benefits of information technology to people with disabilities. In our article Speech on the Net, on page 20, we look at the development of a Web Browser that allows students with disabilities to compete on a equal footing with their sighted classmates, and also provide a round up of the latest in assistive technology products.
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