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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Volume goes up on speech products

November 20, 1998
Web posted at: 3:10 PM EST

by Jana Sanchez-Klein

(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- From the useful to the annoying or even bizarre, speech products made themselves heard at Comdex.

As technologies for speech recognition improve, a flood of products that use these technologies is arriving.

Some products, such as dictation programs for word processing, let you speak instead of type to input information. Others respond to voice commands to perform functions such as reading and replying to e-mail, searching for addresses or phone numbers in databases or handheld devices, dialing mobile phones, or even searching the Web.
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Other programs even let you have conversations with computers. Perhaps it's just the thing for lonely users.

Not always a sound choice

The range of quality is similarly wide. Perhaps due to the high level of ambient noise in the bustling halls at Comdex, many of the programs failed to understand user commands or respond accurately.

Often, commands to "open e-mail" or "get phone number" had to be repeated once or twice before the device responded. Some of the computer-generated voices had a little too much in common the voice of the maniacal HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Other programs worked well, typing rapidly and accurately the spoken words of the enthusiastic staff demonstrating the products. These programs are useful for those with repetitive stress injuries, the visually impaired, and those who may have other problems with typing.

In a demonstration at the Dragon Systems booth, one user, who said he types about 100 words per minute, was humiliated by the speed and accuracy of his electronic competition in a head-to-head battle in front of conference attendees.

After going down to a sound defeat, Michael Wellington of Laguna Medical Systems, a San Clemente, California-based company that sells health-care consulting services, said he was considering using the Dragon developer pack to develop the Dragon Natural Speech product for Windows CE-based handheld computers for the sales team. Laguna's sales team drafts numerous letters and proposals, and the keyboards on these small devices aren't good enough for the volume of typing required, said Wellington.

A speech sampler

Dragon Systems showed the Dragon NaturallyMobile digital recorder, which lets you dictate documents and commands. Through a cable connection, the dictation is entered into a PC, which can then either generate text or execute requested functions. By the end of the year, Dragon will release a hardware-software combination dubbed NaturallyOrganized that will be integrated with Symantec's Act contact manager.

Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products introduced Now You're Talking Deluxe, a $99.95 consumer product that allows you to search the Web, manage a schedule, store and edit address books, and calculate numbers by voice. The Voice WebFinder, for instance, searches the Web for answers to spoken natural-language queries, such as, "What is the weather in New York today?" The product also supports voice dictation.

In a lighter vein, L&H announced Talking MAX, a $29.95 virtual talking pet for computers. The "parrot" is said to understand a speaker of any accent, gender, or language, and can be trained to recognize phrases and associate those phrases with specific actions.

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