KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ A doctor dictates his report into a
computer before he is done examining his patient.
Across town, a factory worker reads aloud a string of numbers
on a product; a radio strapped to his waist broadcasts the data
to a far-off computer.
Both applications were devised by CompuSpeak Laboratories Inc.
of Olathe, Kan., a player in the new industry being built around
Bypassing computer keyboards and speaking data directly into
computers is a new frontier along the information highway.
Already, it is a $300 million a year business and it should more
than double to $750 million in three years, according to the
Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting firm.
One of the major users of the technology is Sprint Corp. Since
January the Westwood, Kan., company has marketed a voice card
that allows users to speak their identification numbers into a
computer reached by dialing an "800" number. Callers then
verbally instruct the computer to call one of 10 phone numbers.
Futurists have long dreamed of other speech-recognition
applications, such as using computer robots to automatically
translate English to Japanese. Apple Computer several years ago
developed a video that simulated a professor instructing a
computer to gather data.
Such novel technology requires powerful computers and software
that converts the human voice into a stream of 1's and 0's, the
language of computers.
The hard part is programming computers to recognize context,
when "two" is not "too," or "know" is not "no."
A speaker's voice, represented by analog sound waves, is
converted into a digital format of 1's and 0's, and the data are
then compressed. Once a digital pattern is recognized by the
computer system, the computer "translates" that pattern into text
on a computer screen.
CompuSpeak, which was founded eight years ago, and a handful
of other pioneering companies nationwide are building businesses
around specialized speech-recognition systems and software.
CompuSpeak's revenues have exceeded $10 million a year, and
100 employees work at the company.
Brian Adamik, director of consumer communications at the
Yankee Group, said software companies were looking at
speech-recognition technology to make it easier to use their
products. Working with Lotus accounting software, for example, a
computer user could say "open spreadsheet" and be ready to go.
Telephone and cellular phone companies also are deploying the
voice-recognition technology. Besides Sprint, local telephone
companies such as Ameritech of Chicago use similar technology.
Cellular phone companies see particular merit in letting
motorists verbally interact with their phones instead of having
to use their hands to make calls.
Advanced research facilities, like AT T's Bell Laboratories in
New Jersey, for years have been researching the very tricky
problem of developing computers and software that recognize
continuous speech. …