Character (speaking with an Indian accent): “Hello”
Siri (speaking with a sexy woman’s voice): “Hello”
Character: “What’s your name?”
Siri: “My name is Siri.”
Character: Are you single?”
Siri: “I don’t have a marital status.”
Character: “How about a cup of coffee?”
Siri: “I found 6 coffee shops, 3 of them near you.”
Another example, this one truer to life, was the Jeopardy contest between IBM‘s Watson supercomputer and the show’s most successful contestants. Questions were asked by host Alex Trebek and Watson’s answers were given in a staccato-sounding computer-generated English.
Speech recognition and speech synthesis are technologies that have been studied and under development for a long time. IBM was one of the pioneers of this research, and the company continues to pursue it in labs all over the world. IBM groups various voice-related technologies under the umbrella phrase Human Language Technologies. Clicking on this link will bring up a page that will direct you to a layman’s overview of IBM’s many research projects, patents and related information.
There are two main parts to the speech field as it relates to computers: Speech Recognition and Speech Synthesis. Beyond that, subsidiary technologies include Speech-to-Text, Natural Language-to-Formal Language Translation, Speaker Recognition and Speaker Verification. Besides IBM, other major companies including Microsoft and Google are investing in speech-related research. DARPA (Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency) is particularly interested in recognizing speech in noisy environments, and has funded research in this field for 40 years through SRI International’s Artificial Intelligence Center. That research formed the basis for the aforementioned Siri. Nuance, the company known for its “Dragon” speech recognition software for PCs, does its own research and collaborates with IBM. Nuance licenses its technology to Apple.
It is difficult to pinpoint the level of investment in speech-related technologies, but with big companies and government agencies heavily involved, together with push from the hugely competitive mobile market, we will see continuing investment and great accomplishment in the years to come
Eventually, these technologies will lead to nothing short of a computing revolution. Chuck the keyboard, the mouse and the pad. We were all born with the I/O of the future.