Long-Promised, Voice Commands Are Finally Going Mainstream
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Date posted: 04/06/2008
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A whole host of highly advanced speech technologies, including emotion and lie detection, are moving from the lab to the marketplace.

"This is not a new technology," says Daniel Hong, an analyst at Datamonitor who specialises in speech technology. "But it took a long time for Moore's Law to make it viable."

Hong estimates that the speech technology market is worth more than $2 billion, with plenty of growth in embedded and network apps.

It's about time. Speech technology has been around since the 1950s, but only recently have computer processors grown powerful enough to handle the complex algorithms that are required to recognize human speech with enough accuracy to be useful.

There are already several capable voice-controlled technologies on the market. Yet as promising as this year's crop of voice-activated gadgets may be, they're just the beginning.

Computer scientists have already developed software that can identify emotional states and even truthfulness by analysing acoustic features like pitch and intensity, and lexical ones like the use of contractions and particular parts of speech. And they are honing their algorithms using the massive amounts of real-world speech data collected by call centers.

A reliable, speech-based lie detector would be a boon to law enforcement and the military. But broader emotion detection could be useful as well.

For example, a virtual call center agent that could sense a customer's mounting frustration and route them to a live agent would save time, money and customer loyalty.

"It's not quite ready, but it's coming pretty soon," says James Larson, an independent speech application consultant who co-chairs the W3C Voice Browser Working Group.

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