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Tomorrow Today

Voice recognition removes computing obstacle for Chinese

voice recognition
An informal test revealed voice input to be about twice as fast as typing the Chinese language
CNN's Marsha Walton looks at Chinese language voice recognition software
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James Yeh of IBM describes the knowledge on the Web available in English
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Typing Chinese language characters can take years to master   

July 1, 1999
Web posted at: 9:29 a.m. EDT (1329 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- Using a computer keyboard is second nature to youngsters in many parts of the world.

But in China, the complex system of inputting thousands of written-language characters is a skill that takes years to master.

"The ability to try to make a keyboard device for the Chinese language has been very difficult, if not impossible," said Elizabeth Mynatt, a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher who studies human/computer interaction.

Mandarin voice recognition software from IBM called "Via Voice" took a long time to develop but it could make things simpler.

"It turns out we have to take advantage of the phrases and the words and also the context in the sentence," Mynatt says.

In a head-to-head matchup between typing and talking, the voice input processed the same text from a newspaper about twice as fast as the keyboard entry.

At Beijing's "Spark/Ice" Internet cafe, one first-time user gave the IBM software high marks.

"I used it the first time I achieved a 95 percent recognition rate, which was quite high," the user said.

Mynatt says removing the "keyboard barrier" could mean millions of computer users in China could soon affect everything from business to politics.

"When they are able to produce Web pages, they are able to author their own opinions in interesting ways that haven't been possible before," Mynatt said.

It is expected that Internet use will explode in China in the next few months with about 10 million people logging on by the year 2000. Speech recognition systems could help fuel that growth, and give Chinese users a greater voice in the future of the Internet.

Correspondent Marsha Walton contributed to this story.

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Georgia Institute of Technology
IBM Speech recognition demonstration
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