access to your files on the company network, allow you to modify your 401K enrollment via the human resources internal Web site, secure your work for the day and clock you out when it's time to go home. When tied into the company's telephone system, voice verification can even validate that you are "punching the clock" from your own desk.

The Improving Power of Voice

From the mere twinkle in the eyes of engineers from IBM and AT&T, to becoming an integral part of our day-to-day lives, the state of voice recognition art has come a long way in the last 50 years. Whether or not we realize it, we use the technology on a regular basis. The array of products and applications that have recently emerged have demonstrated that these systems have improved to the point where they are usable for day-to-day dictation, control, logistics management and telephony applications.

Dictation systems have improved to the point that they can be used by individuals who may not be as effective with a keyboard as they could potentially be with their own voices. Virtually all dictation software also provides the user the ability to control the general operations of their computers. This capability offers physically or visually challenged people the ability to interact with the computer, as well. Systems for improving the quality of life for physically challenged people are relatively easy to implement if other electronic and electromechanical devices are already in place. In many cases, these existing systems can be augmented with voice-recognition capabilities.

Telephony applications are becoming more and more pervasive. Many companies and local governments are implementing systems that accept speech as well as "Touch-Tone" keys. Better recognition systems also allow voice-based input for forms completion, directory assistance, etc.

Speech recognition technology is making its way into our daily lives as we complete activities such as filling in unemployment insurance claim forms over the phone, controlling the living room lamp, opening the office door, controlling access to confidential records, "voice-surfing" the Web, taking dictation and inventorying pencils in the supply closet.

The products and vendors mentioned in this article by no means constitute all that is available on the market today. A simple search on the Internet for "speech recognition" yields a vast array of products and services geared toward the application of speech recognition technology. Chances are, if you have an idea of what you would like to do with speech technology, there's a product out there waiting to fit your requirement.

Voice recognition technology is rapidly improving and, as a result, is being used in more and more daily activities.

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Pete Hermsen is president of Variant Technology Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in voice-over IP, e-commerce systems architecture and wireless LAN and WAN architecture and implementation.

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Build Your Own

I f you are inclined to build your own voice recognition system, building blocks for these systems are available from the following vendors:

Dialogic Corp. offers CT Media, various telephony interface hardware plug-in cards and continuous speech processing hardware for on-board speech recognition. Call 800/755-4444 or 973/993-3030.

Brooktrout Technology Inc. also provides various telephony interface hardware plug-in cards as well as New Network platform (CTI platform). Call 781/449-4100.

Natural Microsystems, Inc. has various telephony interface hardware plug-in cards and NaturalRecognition available. Call 800/533-6120 or 508/620-9300.

Lernout & Hasupie sells ASR 1500 -- a speech recognition development kit -- and Real-Speak Text-To-Speech Development tools. Call 781/203-5000.

IBM offers a number of development tools for telephony: IBM DirectTalk; IBM Message Center; and IBM CallPath. Call 800/IBM-4YOU or 914/499-1900.

Numerous additional companies, such as Ericsson, Locus Dialog, Nuance, Philips, Speech Works and others offer hardware and software building blocks for developing ASR-based telephony platforms.