Mainstream acceptance of speech technologies originally designed for people with special needs will lead to "explosive" growth within the next couple of years, IT executives and vendors repeatedly said here.
An array of products that use technologies like natural language understanding, speech recognition and text-to-speech on PCs and for telephony are being demonstrated at the CeBit trade show by a variety of companies. They include Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products (L&H), IBM, Dragon Systems, Philips Electronics NV, Mannesmann Arcor AG & Co and CyberLab Interactive Productions GmbH.
Companies plan to release products in more languages throughout this year and expect continued improvements in the technologies. These will lead to improved accuracy both in applications that have to understand speech and those that translate languages, as well as continued advances in overall quality.
L&H demonstrated a multilingual chat application here that converges a number of speech-related technologies and allows people to communicate in their natural language to others who might not speak the same language. In the demonstration, one person spoke in English and his words were translated to a German-speaking woman in her native tongue, and vice versa.
The company intends to hold off releasing the software until later this year because "the voice (that speaks the translated words) sounds like a robot. We want to introduce it with a real human voice," said L&H president and CEO Gaston Bastiaens after the demonstration.
Vendors are convinced that the speech-technology market is going to take off because it affords computer and telephone users all manner of conveniences, from hands-free PC use, to ordering the VCR to record a favourite show, to obtaining driving directions via the Web while in the car using a voice-activated computer in the vehicle.