Freedom of speech

March 5th, 2010 in .Blogs .Tech
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Speech recognition isn’t anything new. It’s been around for nearly five decades, rearing its enigmatic head in a multitude of forms, serving purposes ranging from the formal (dictating radiology reports), to the frivolous (playing blackjack), to the plain fantastic (allowing the blind to drive).

Blind Driver Challenge buggy

Blind Driver Challenge buggy (Photo courtesy of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

But only in the past two years or so has the technology been finessed to the point where it has ubiquitous applicability, and doesn’t immediately bring on Chris-Tucker-in-Rush-Hour moments.

So why is speech recognition technology only making inroads into mainstream use now?

The answer lies in the rapid advances in enabling technologies that we’ve witnessed in recent years.

Pocket-sized processing power

Speech recognition entails complex software, which in turn requires prodigious amounts of processing power. Given the range and subtlety of the English language, this comes as no surprise. Powerful processors are now aplenty, however, and thanks to miniaturisation, many are petite enough to fit into handheld devices. Miniaturisation has also led to the proliferation of some of the other components required for speech recognition, such as small, low-cost microphones and speakers that can be built into said handheld devices.

Increasing sophistication of natural language processing (NLP) techniques

Gone are the days where you’d have to enunciate phrases with robotic precision each and every time. Speech recognition solutions are now sophisticated enough to process and interpret other elements that are critical to communication, such as contexts, intents and accents.

Many companies have been putting speech recognition to good use. If you’re one of the millions of iPod users out there, you’re probably well acquainted with the Voice Control feature. The technology has also been integrated into certain cars, and — perhaps more impressively — aircraft. The list goes on and on. One thing’s for sure: speech recognition is going to be a hot talking point from here on in.

Only time will tell where ASUS will go with this technology, but, rest assured, we’ll be the first to break the story.

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