Blind World Magazine

Internet search might soon be unshackled from traditional PCs.




Sci-Tech Today.
Thursday, April 13, 2006.




Speech-to-text tools are not new, having arrived a few decades ago in the form of transcription applications. But products for the Web, especially those that allow the visually impaired to surf the Internet, have been slow in coming.


In a sign that Internet search might soon be unshackled from traditional PCs, Google has been granted a patent for technology that would enable users to enter search queries by talking rather than typing.


With the new technology, a Google search could be initiated through a computer's microphone or even by phone.


The patent, granted on April 11, covers a "voice interface for a search engine" and is described as a system that provides search results from a voice-based query.


In addition to being a boon for the visually impaired, a voice-activated tool would be ideal for mobile services.


Keyboard Begone


Although Google is not commenting on the potential applications of the patent, two Google employees named on the patent presented an academic paper in 2002 that discussed the topic.


"Spoken queries are a natural medium for searching the Web in settings where typing on a keyboard is not practical," wrote Alexander Franz and Brian Milch in the article.


The pair noted that Web search has several properties that make it a "particularly difficult speech-recognition problem."


Issues include translating the spoken search queries and creating a large enough vocabulary database to accommodate most requests. Also a concern is being able to do voice recognition in real time.


Forward March


Speech-to-text tools are not new, having arrived a few decades ago in the form of transcription applications. But products for the Web, especially those that allow the visually impaired to surf the Internet, have been slow in coming.


"The difficulty has been that human speech has layers of meaning, plus, in some ways, the computer has to be dumb enough to understand anybody, to cut down on programming it for just one person's voice," said Mike Calvo, chief executive of Serotek, a company that develops products for the visually disabled.


Calvo, who is blind, is familiar with how the speech-recognition field has changed since its inception. "Computers are getting smarter, and fortunately people are getting geekier," he said.


What might give Google an edge is that human conversation is complex, but identifying individual words is quite easy for computers at this point, Calvo noted. "Recognizing words is a piece of cake," he said. "It's conversation flow that's tough."



http://www.sci-tech-today.com/news/Google-Looks-to-Voice-Activated-Search/story.xhtml?story_id=0310038EFQS7




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