Thursday, August 23, 2007

SpeechTEK 2007 - Speech Technology Becomes More Mainstream

SpeechTEK brings together the people who build the telephone voice response systems that are becoming a ubiquitous part of our lives. As Christopher Herot reports, while many of these systems are downright annoying, the cost savings are impressive - one estimate was that every second shaved from the human interaction in a directory assistance application saves the phone company $7 million. The developers are keenly aware that the caller is not always enthusiastic about speaking to a robot and in fact measure their success by reducing the percentage of the time the caller presses 0 to get to a human being.

The opening keynote speaker perhaps signals a different way of approaching this. Mike Cohen is Google’s speech technology group manager and was previously with Nuance. He focused primarily on his company’s speech-powered mobile program, GOOG411. This service, which is currently available in the USA, allows cell phone users to get directory information using voice commands. As Cohen noted, when searching on the mobile Web, users want specific information fast. To tackle this challenge, Cohen suggested speech technology has an advantage over traditional means of data entry. He underlined the importance of keeping an “obsessive focus on the end-user.”

With the resources that Google and others are putting into similar applications, it is likely that callers will more readily accept similar speech technology systems. If such systems deliver good user experiences, it is less and less likely that callers will inevitably go for the 0 key and be willing to wait their turn for a human operator.

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