Friday, November 28, 2008

IBM Predicts Talking Web

IBM's annual crystal ball list of Innovations That Will Change Our Lives in the Next Five Years includes a forecast of a voice-enabled talking web. "You will be able to sort through the Web verbally to find what you are looking for and have the information read back to you," the article predicts.
IBM itself has launched several voice-enabled products and initiatives over the years, most notably the WebSphere Voice family of web servers, which adds various voice functionality to its flagship WebSphere platform, leveraging it in areas such as unified messaging and call-center automation.
Some problems exist with a vision as the one advocated by the article. Speech recognition accuracy and noise filtering have obviously come a long way and may only pose a minor impediment.
The user's desire to speak rather than type or click is another problem. Issuing voice commands in the presence of others may not always be desirable and can be disruptive, for instance at work on public transport. Lastly, there are usability concerns, beyond the quality of speech technology, when converting a visual 2- or even 3-dimensional representation of information into a 1-dimensional audio stream. The cognitive load increases significantly with tasks more complex than, for instance, obtaining time-table information or finding the nearest Italian restaurant.
The effort that stands behind the vision, to put voice technology to uses beyond call-center automation, is laudable. Mobile internet access and computing on-the-road may indeed do their parts to make this vision come true. And clearly, there are use cases, such as improved accessibility for users with impairments, that on their own accord merit making the web voice-accessible. Wide-spread usage of a voice-enabled web, however, may be more than five years off.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Google Mobile iPhone App with Speech Recognition

Google released a new feature for its Google Mobile iPhone Application yesterday: voice search. Users speak a query and the application returns search results formatted for the iPhone. This is similar to the GOOG411 directory assistance application, which allows users to call a phone number, speak a query and receive information about local listings in voice or SMS formats. However the new application apparently performs recognition locally on the iPhone, meaning it comes bundled with an embedded speech recognition engine.

Aside from GOOG411, during the US presidential Google released Gaudi, a voice indexing technology for video. That makes the iPhone app the third official service the company releases, making use of speech recognition, leaving one guessing when Google's speech technology becomes available as API, like the Google AJAX Language API for translation and transliteration, rather than bundled as software services. Also, an Android version is probably in the works, one would guess.

All applications are available in US English for now.