IBM Strives for Superhuman Speech Tech

IBM's new speech recognition technology can comprehend spoken English, translate on the fly, and even create subtitles for foreign-language TV programs. (

NEW YORK— IBM unveiled new speech recognition technology on Tuesday that can comprehend the nuances of spoken English, translate it on the fly, and even create on-the-fly subtitles for foreign-language television programs.

Historically, speech technology required the user to limit his speech to a fixed set of phrases in order to interact with a device. With IBMs Embedded ViaVoice 4.4 software package, introduced on Tuesday, the company aims to allow users to speak commands using phrasing that is natural to them.

In a demonstration today at IBMs headquarters here, for example, users changed a simulated radio station by speaking any of the following phrases: "Play 92.3," "Tune to 92.3" or "Tune the radio to 92.3."

Though speech recognition is already built into products like Microsofts OfficeXP, many users still prefer to use their keyboards.

/zimages/6/28571.gifWeak speech recognition leaves customers cold. Click here to read more.

Speech recognition can be trained to recognize a particular users voice. But interpreting sounds from a variety of speakers can be even more challenging, unless a limited library of sounds, or phonemes, is used.

Still, though speech recognition by a computer is still far from perfect, the future is bright, according to David Nahamoo, a manager in the human language technologies department at IBM Research.

"At IBM, we have this superhuman speech recognition [initiative in which] the goal is to get performance comparable to humans in the next five years," Nahamoo said.

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