IBM Lets a 'Thousand Flowers' Speak

IBM put speech technology in the context of its broader SOA and information-on-demand initiatives.


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NEW YORK -- IBM (Quote) thinks that speech technology has evolved from the first rudimentary dictation products it introduced 10 years ago to mainstream and, in some cases, life-altering applications.

To prove the point, the company introduced a sampling of everyday applications at its Speech Technology Innovation Conference here.

These include in-car products using voice recognition to improve hands-free performance of navigation and entertainment features and call center handling.

IBM also demonstrated two applications with important geo-political implications: MASTOR, a speech-to-text-to-speech translator which it deployed in Iraq last year, and TALES, which translates and transcribes foreign-language TV broadcasts and Web sites. TALES currently translates Arabic and Mandarin Chinese into English.

David Nahamoo, chief technology officer for speech technology at IBM Research, said that speech technology will prove as important to the world as telephony and transportation.

The latter technologies "bridged time and distance. Speech technology will help bridge the cultural divide," he told internetnews.com.

One example of how this could play out is MASTOR.

The tool, which runs on a Panasonic ToughBook, allows U.S. soldiers to speak into a microphone in English and have their words translated into Iraqi Arabic. Their words are also shown on the laptop screen in both English and Arabic so that the speaker can be sure his or her words were properly translated.

MASTOR also translates from Iraqi Arabic into English, allowing U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians to actually carry out a conversation.

Nahamoo says technological innovations like MASTOR can help people break language barriers that are at the root of most of the world's problems.

He noted that IBM Research has the luxury of working with a $600 million budget.

He said the company's philosophy is to fund projects without preconceptions and see what commercial applications can be developed later.

"Our approach is, let a thousand flowers bloom," he said.

But the company also has more tangible goals in mind for speech technology.

Brian Garr, program manager of advanced technologies at IBM, said that voice is at the heart of Big Blue's information- on-demand and SOA (define) strategies.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com. To read the full article, click here.

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