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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Speech-recognition makers promise 'assistants'

November 17, 1998
Web posted at: 1:27 PM ET

by Ephraim Schwartz


(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- New software programs to be unveiled at Comdex here this week will make computers more "intelligent" and add significantly to a system's usefulness as an interactive assistant by leveraging the power of the fastest Intel processors and large amounts of RAM.

Programs from Soho Talk, Lernout & Hauspie, and Conversa will use voice as a hands-free and eyes-free interface to access and exchange information with calendars, e-mail, schedules, and other databases.

All three companies use speech recognition as the interface, but the real technology that underlies the programs is natural-language understanding.
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Soho Talk will introduce Say...Do and its voice assistant, code-named Marnie, an interface that will let a user dynamically access data from Outlook, Act, GoldMine, Lotus Notes, and DayTimer. For example, a user can ask "Do I have any free time Wednesday afternoon?" or state "Show me today's appointments," according to Richard Grant, Soho Talk's chief science officer.

Users can also query the program by asking when appointments are set with any particular person and can tell Marnie to fax or e-mail a confirmation.

The program also has an automatic time and billing feature and a project scheduler.

The program, which will cost less than $150 and will ship in the first quarter of 1999. It will be followed in the second quarter of the year by a client/server version with groupware scheduling capability. Say...Do works with either IBM ViaVoice or Dragon Systems speech engine.

Conversational Computing is headed for the same space as an intelligent interactive assistant, but comes from a different direction.

Its Conversa Lingo is a Windows-based tool for creating dialogs to accomplish various computer tasks. It will allow users, via a conversation, to access customer information that is stored in a database or on the Internet.

Using an interactive model, both corporate developers and end-users can create in-depth conversations when accessing information. When a user asks for customer information by name, the system responds by offering to display that customer's purchasing history for the past three months.

The creation of these conversations launch what is best described as a macro that can use numerous embedded "if-then" commands to tunnel as deeply as needed into the database.

The program will be available in the first half of 1999.

Lernout & Hauspie also is using the Comdex trade show to unveil a program with many similarities to Say...Do and Conversa Lingo.

Now You're Talking will give users access to Internet searches, as well as the capability to schedule meetings via speech technology.

The Internet search tool, called Voice WebFinder, will search the Web to find the answer to any question asked using a typical natural-language vocabulary, such as "What is the population of the United States?"

Repetitive stress injury (RSI) sufferers could benefit immediately from such programs.

"Programs like this can be designed for individual needs in any corporation, no matter what their job is," said Susan DeStefano, a registered and licensed occupational therapist specializing in hand therapy and a RSI consultant to companies, in Boca Raton, Fla.

"Currently it costs a company about $20,000 per occurrence of RSI -- that includes medical, therapy, lost time, and adaptations to workstation," DeStefano said.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Mateo, Calif.

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