Someday soon, you might find yourself behind the steering wheel of your car and you'll want to dial your phone, find out where the nearest Starbucks is, change the music you are listening to and adjust your heat or air conditioning. And you will be able to do all of this with nothing but the power of your own voice.
IBM and a number of its corporate partners gathered Tuesday at the company's New York City offices to discuss the current state of speech recognition technology and its future. A forum and a series of product demonstrations focused largely on technology allowing drivers to control gadgets without taking their eyes off the road or their hands off the steering wheel. While some of the products are available already, there figure to be many new technologies and improvements on existing ones in the coming years.
"Speech can be revolutionary," said Brian Garr, program director of IBM's enterprise speech solutions. Garr noted that it has been 10 years since IBM introduced its first speech recognition product.
"We can actually change the paradigm of the way people think about completing transactions, the way people think about interacting with computers or not even caring that they're interacting with computers," he said.
A product planning manager at Pioneer Electronics discussed the company's AVIC navigation system and upgrades planned for a new version to be released in late March.
In the new version, a driver can announce that he or she wants to find the nearest Starbucks and the navigation system will locate the closest one and speak the directions.
"If you want to find a Starbucks coffee or McDonald's, you can simply say 'vicinity search Starbucks coffee' and it will take you to your nearest Starbucks, said Ted Cardenas of Pioneer. "You can simply say go to JFK and that will take you to the JFK airport. It really simplifies the operation of the unit."
Improvements in technology are allowing Pioneer and other systems to understand synonyms. A driver can say "go," "search" or "destination" and the system will realize the words all mean essentially the same thing, Cardenas said.
Drivers can use the Pioneer system to control music sources as well. You might say "FM radio" or iPod to select a music source, and then ask for a certain artist or song you want to listen to.
"Using ... the voice recognition engine were able to keep the drivers eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel by avoiding the interaction both visually as well as by touch with the unit itself installed in the dash," Cardenas said.
Pioneer and several other companies present today use IBM ViaVoice, a speech recognition software product.