Talk to the Hand

Clicking through multiple layers of menus and scrolling through tiny pages isn’t the most efficient way to work with electronic information-just ask someone squinting at the screen of a personal digital assistant. Liam Comerford and his colleagues at IBM’s Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, have developed an alternative that allows interaction through conversational voice commands. Called the Personal Speech Assistant, this handheld goes above and beyond the voice-activated menu commands available with other devices. It understands natural-language queries such as “Show me my address book,” or “When’s my next appointment?” The assistant extracts the pertinent information from its database and answers with synthetic speech. It also tailors its responses based on the user’s needs; if someone forwards through the detailed spoken instructions, for example, the device automatically starts to deliver shorter prompts. As an added bonus, the prototype translates English phrases into any of five languages. The prototype (photo) is a stationary unit that cradles a Palm III, but within a year, the software should be available for handheld-device manufacturers to incorporate into their products. “It’s mostly a matter of the right party stepping up and saying, ‘Gimme,’” says Comerford.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.