The Human to Computer Language Connection

17 11 2013

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Talking to computers has long been a staple of science fiction, but today it’s a reality, says Bill Meisel, a technology analyst and author of the recent book, The Software Society. The importance of this trend is exemplified by battles between large technology companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung that see it as a fundamental shift in the way we deal with digital systems. Today, the battle is largely over smartphones, with Apple’s Siri and Google’s voice search being the best-known examples of how far the technology has come. But the trend is moving to tablet computers and the new SmartTVs, as well as increasing used inside companies and by professionals for efficiency.

The key, Meisel says, is technology that understands the content of the speech–“natural language understanding”–when the communication with a device is by voice or typing. Increasingly, the user manual for most digital systems will be “just say or type what you want,” and your digital “personal assistant” will try to give you the result you want as directly as possible, with minimal navigation. When your request is unclear, the assistant will engage you in a dialog for clarification. It will even be proactive, telling you of an incoming message or upcoming appointment without being asked. Those capabilities exist today in a limited form, but will continue to get better.

Bill Meisel began his career as a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at USC, writing a technical book on how computers can recognize patterns in data. He then went into industry, including founding a speech recognition company. Currently, he is an industry analyst covering commercial applications of speech and natural language technology with a newsletter and a blog. This year, Bill published a book for general audiences called The Software Society, which discusses how software is increasingly impacting our culture and economy.

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