Speech Industry Making Minor, Steady Gains

At SpeechTEK, vendors are focusing more on targeted applications than futuristic possibilities.

As the speech technologys major trade show kicks off this week in New York, dont expect to hear grandiose announcements of computers and humans speaking in harmony.

Expect instead a steady stream of product updates and new launches from companies such as ScanSoft Inc., Intel Corp. and IBM focused on honing speech recognition and text-to-speech voices as the industry enters a phase of realism promising steady growth. Whether it be supporting more languages, new voice styles or emerging standards, vendors seem more focused on showing off targeted applications than futuristic possibilities.

"The kind of interaction that Data has on Star Trek is still 20 years away," said James Larson, program chairman for the 9th Annual SpeechTEK International Educational Conference and Exposition, which opened Monday and runs through Thursday.

This years SpeechTEK comes as analysts predict a rebound in the speech recognition market. Gartner Dataquest predicts that after declining in 2002, the market will grow worldwide from about $130 million in revenue this year to $258 million in 2007. Use in call centers and in business portals will account for 76 percent of all speech recognition product shipments, according to Gartner.

The speech industry knows that businesses and consumers are skeptical of speech technology, having witnessed such software as dictation programs that typically miss one out of 20 words, said Larson, manager of advanced human input/output at Intel. He expects the big push at SpeechTEK to be on two-way conversation voice systems, where callers into a call center respond verbally to menus or answer simple questions.

"Users should be skeptical of how much computers can understand," Larson said. "These conversational systems dont try to understand every word in the English language but only the words in a menu or the words one speaks to fill in the blank."

Next page: Whats being unveiled at SpeechTEK.