Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Assistive and Accessibility Technology

Diligent readers may have noticed that dominant news bits concerning speech and language technologies seem to focus on the cost- or time-saving aspects it. This is understandable, as the big players (Google, Microsoft, Nuance, IBM) have made it their mandate to capture lucrative markets (call center automation, directory assistance). Application of natural language technologies elsewhere, e.g. where it's fun (in games) or necessary (providing accessibility for visually impaired users), seems to lag.
Not so this week. This week seems to shine under the assistive/accessibility technology star. Note Sourceforge project "Speak as Daisy" - a Microsoft Word plugin that enables creation of XML files with markup for speech synthesis or electronic braille generation. The plugin is said to be available in 2008.
Mac users with need for improved document read back in British English will rejoice over the improved Infovox iVox voices.
Philips and Elsevier develop a speech-enabled diagnostic system for Radiologists.
Behold Nattiq's USB Hal Pen, which allows blind users to use the company's accessibility features on any computer with a USB port without installation.
Of course there's some overlap with time-, cost- and money-saving technologies as well. The FBI has announced widespread use of Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation for report and interview transcription.
Lastly, here's an a propos rant against call center automation and frustrated end-users, a target group for speech and language technologies all too often neglected. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned about usability by the "money savers" employing speech technology, taken from those that rely on speech recognition and synthesis for their daily needs. I don't know, but F-word spotting as a means for prioritizing frustrated callers seems like an acknowledgement of defeat.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Back in the saddle with MSFT, GOOG and VoiceGlue

Back after an extensive break. Been working hard on some of my own multi-modal ideas. Keep your eyes peeled.
Looks like it's been a quiet fall, speech and language technology-wise. After GOOG-411, Microsoft has also added speech to their search engine endeavors (if in a different domain) by speech-enabling Live Search for mobile users. Nuance continues to consolidate the speech tech market.
Exciting news on the IVR front. Finally a serious attempt to integrate various open-source technologies to provide free carrier-grade speech/telephone services is under way. VoiceGlue has managed to combine OpenVXI (VXML browser), Flite (Speech Synthesis) on Asterisk and is planning to integrate Sphinx2 for speech recognition. All components would then be available under some form of the GPL. Could this herald a change in availability of speech telephone platforms for developers unwilling to dish out horrendous per-port costs? Something to follow, anyway.
Lastly, here's an article describing the growing role of speech in warehouse management.