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[September 15, 2004]


From SpeechTEK 2004



This is not a good place for the claustrophobic.


SpeechTEK �04 has approximately 93 exhibiting companies doing their thing in a space the size of a Manhattan apartment (which is where the showcase is taking place this year; specifically, at Times Square; minutely, at the Marriot Marquis).


SpeechTEK is an annual conference and tradeshow that allows those in the field of speech or voice technology, like most other conference/tradeshows, the opportunity to make deals, brag, snoop, schmooze and booze�all in the name of technological advancement.


It appears that we (humans) have met the abilities of the voice operations of HAL (1968�s 2001: A Space Odyssey) but�HAVE WE?


(Pause for suspense)


I don�t know (didn�t HAL�s AI eventually kill people?). Speech and voice are not new technologies, but they are burgeoning exigently. Speech, it seems, is no longer for techno geeks and corporate higher-ups. It is now for everybody (everybody with opposable thumbs, at least). But the �everyday person� seems to still be hesitant, borderline terrified (it�s a very thick line) to turn to using speech/voice tools. This is not only because of primitive-thinking companies that will settle for what they are used to, but also because it can be rather costly to roll out an entirely new workable system.


Based on exploration at this show, the technology is at a place where speech/voice doesn�t have to be used only for corporate conferencing�that�s just stupid. (A PR person for a company not in speech/voice actually told me, after interest was expressed on my part in a phone conversation, that is only what such technologies are used for).


Even at a lower specific level, the technology is used in voice-operated phone directories, customer care/service over the phone and in some call centers where inquiries can be properly addressed and answered without a live agent (identification and verification, etc.). These are only very few examples of how speech and voice are already implemented and used.


This is, however, only one stance on the technology of speech and voice.

One vendor I spoke with here, on the other hand, confided that the technology is simply not ready to take place of human interactions and such accompanying issues; she said, �Speech technology is not mature enough to be used in a natural or extensive way.� Only for actions such as directory assistance and those similar can it take the place of human interaction in call centers, etc.�good news for live agents� jobs.


Numerous vendors at SpeechTEK have been saying that the technology is ready but customers��everyday people��simply don�t understand the technology and are, therefore, afraid or hesitant to significantly use it. And yet the technology is decades old, with advancements, of course.


Another company higher-up, who�s been working in the field of speech for 30 years, told me that the technology is ready to be grasped and diligently used because it is the most natural communication there is: most of us have been speaking since we were children. The blame for its lack of prevalence lies on both the creators and the future users/customers. Yes, people shy away from technologies they don�t yet understand, but creators of the software, financially supported by major corporations that satisfyingly employ these licensed technologies, are bound not to let such information be known. Once a major, influential corporate company announces that they actually use this speech/voice technology with satisfactory results, others will follow, like mouse-clicking rats to the keyboard-less Pied Piper (Don�t let us mouse-clickers drown.).


So there is still much Hamlet-like confusion amongst the en masse, and even among the leaders, regarding the present state of speech and voice technologies� identity and the role of both in our future technological state.


P.S., dear loyal readers (all three of you): James Carville is here as a keynote speaker with Mary Matalin. I don�t think he�s here to discuss his role in Old School.



David R. Butcher is the assistant editor for Customer Inter@ction Solutions Magazine.

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