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Palm 3 and Speech synth

Sorry for the length, I posted the full article below, its NY times, and you 
have to subscribe and all this and that. It takes forever to get to it. I 
just thought it would be easier to post it myself rather than the URL in this 
case. If you are not interested, please kill this message now.  I do think 
this is cool stuff and somewhat relevent to the list tho. Also, there are 
palm emulators out there so we can test without buying.

end of message, article below.


OVER the past few years, Liam D. Comerford, a speech engineer at I.B.M.'s 
Thomas J. Watson Research Center, has developed a habit of conversing with 
his Palm III. Sometimes he tells the device about his chores. Other times he 
will listen as the machine reminds him of a scheduled meeting. Once in a 
while he'll simply ask it for the time.

 Mr. Comerford is not losing his mind. His organizer can actually recognize 
his speech in addition to uttering sentences itself. It is one of nearly 100 
Palm organizers that I.B.M. (news/quote) Research has reconfigured in an 
attempt to create a speech system small enough to reside on a hand-held 

 "I'm ready now, Liam," his Palm announced in robotic staccato during a 
recent demonstration. 

 "How do you feel?" its owner asked.

 "My battery power is at 83 percent," the device responded. 

 Five years ago, hand-held devices with speech interfaces were futuristic 
visions. Someday, engineers predicted, people would get so fed up with 
tapping on tiny keyboards that they would want to talk to their devices 
instead. Some people, they figured, would find small screens such a strain 
that they would want their hand-held computers to read their notes aloud, 
particularly while they were driving. 

 But getting speech systems into small devices means overcoming size and 
power constraints. Until recently, hand-held computers were equipped with 
processors with only limited power to avoid draining the batteries too 

 Speech technology was out of the question because of the processing power it 
required. Indeed, several companies decided to forgo the idea of embedded 
systems in favor of devices that can generate or recognize speech only when 
connected to a larger server or computer network. Microsoft (news/quote), for 
example, has developed technology for hand- held computers that have a 
wireless connection to remote servers. 

 Yet as processors and batteries have become more efficient, some companies 
have held on to the idea of putting entire speech engines within hand-held 
computers. They are convinced that people will become frustrated with 
hand-held speech products that require wireless communication to operate, 
particularly given the lag time and access problems. They want to offer 
systems that are entirely embedded in devices so that they will always be 
ready for use.

 The system demonstrated by Mr. Comerford is one example. I.B.M. Research has 
been working on the technology, which it calls the personal speech assistant, 
for several years. He said that the protoype was based on three decades of 
work by I.B.M. scientists to create increasingly nimble programming codes for 
speech systems. Faster and smaller processors also helped, he said, as did a 
few improvements in hardware, like adding a speaker, a microphone and an 
additional processor to the Palm.

 The technology can also be adapted for other hand-held devices. Last week, 
in fact, I.B.M. announced that part of its speech system had been adopted by 
Compaq for use in its new iPaq 3800 series.

 Consumers might soon get another taste of a talking hand-held device from 
Lernout & Hauspie, the speech software company in Burlington, Mass. In the 
next few months the company plans to release software called PDSay, said Pam 
Ravesi, senior director of product management. For about $35, she said, 
people will be able to download the software into any Compaq iPaq, models 
3630 and later.

 SpeechWorks, a software company in Boston, has also developed a few embedded 
speech systems for hand- held computers, said Mike Phillips, the company's 
chief technology officer. The systems can turn text into speech and can 
understand spoken commands like those used to open files or read addresses, 
he said. Mr. Phillips would not say which manufacturers would be working with 
the company. 

 Another forthcoming speech system was demonstrated last month in San Diego 
at DemoMobile, a technology conference for investors and technology 
executives. Developed by Voice Signal, a speech company in Woburn, Mass., it 
is called Elvis, an acronym for "embedded large vocabulary interface system." 
Unlike the I.B.M. prototype, Elvis does not generate speech but it does 
recognize voice commands and can take dictation. It is expected to go on the 
market for manufacturers by the end of the year.

 "The challenge was, how do we make a dictation package that fits in 1 
megabyte of memory instead of 128 megs of memory?" said Dan Roth, Voice 
Signal's chief executive. "And we've been able to do it."

 The breakthrough was achieved partly by compressing the system's 
accompanying dictionary and re-engineering some of the software code and the 
core speech engine for use on small devices, Mr. Roth said.

 At the demonstration, a Voice Signal official dictated a 100-word e- mail 
message that was captured and translated into text on a Compaq iPaq. Mr. Roth 
said he expected this type of interface to be popular with people who are 
currently struggling with tiny keyboards and styluses to tap out e-mail 
messages in cabs on their way to meetings.

 I.B.M.'s technology could be used for e-mail, too. But so far, Mr. Comerford 
has only been testing its ability to dictate appointments and memos to save 
for his own viewing - or listening - in the future.

 For example, he has programmed the device to alert him to meetings. "You 
have an appointment at 2 p.m.," it tells him. Mr. Comerford has also found 
the speech assistant to be helpful in recording expenses: when he gets out of 
a cab, he said, he tells the device how much the ride cost. 

 The concept of a talking device does have its drawbacks. Imagine, for 
example, that a person's Palm started giving away secrets, perhaps by making 
an announcement about a confidential meeting that could be heard by anyone 
within earshot. And what about the annoyance of hearing robotic babble every 
few minutes?

 I.B.M. has considered those problems, Mr. Comerford said, and is working to 
make it easy for people to move seamlessly from a speech-oriented system to 
the stylus and back again. And it is trying to keep the Palm mute when 

 "Right now, we want it to ask, `Hello, are you there?' " Mr. Comerford said. 
"If it doesn't get a reply, it should put itself to sleep."

 Such niceties, however, will not override another potential problem. With 
hand-held devices taking dictation, train passengers may have to put up not 
only with cellphone talkers but also with the drone of passengers dictating 
their to-do lists

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