Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Like Speech Control? Nuance CEO Ricci Says You’re Going to Love What’s Coming Next.

If you’ve ever spoken to or been spoken to by a computer or a smartphone, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s technology from Nuance involved. Over the last decade or so, Nuance has accumulated an impressive portfolio of voice-related technologies. That puts it front and center in the battle to control what’s likely going to be the way we control our devices and computing environment in the post-PC era. In fact it acquired a company in the in-car infotainment business today.

Nuance’s technology, widely known for its Dragon line of dictation products, has a patent footprint related to speech recognition that is so broad that it’s widely thought — but has never been acknowledged officially by anyone — to be present in Siri, the speech-recognition service on Apple’s iPhone. It’s also a regular target of speculation that a larger company will buy it out. In his first appearance at D: All Things Digital, expect its Chairman and CEO Paul Ricci to field lots of questions on the future of speech interfaces and the unexpected places where they may show up next.

10:57 am: Ricci: We knew this was going to be a long journey. … Speech has progressed a long way. We’ve come so far that in areas like health care we can capture doctors’ notes and use them productively. But the real problem is creating for the user a virtual assistant that can understand what the user wants and take actions based on anticipating those needs.

Ricci just confirmed what has long been suspected, that Nuance is present in Siri. Walt asked, “If Siri doesn’t understand me, is it your fault?” Ricci didn’t want to answer specifically. He also says Nuance is not involved with Google’s speech-recognition efforts, but does work with Samsung and some other companies in voice applications that run on Android.

Ricci: I think we will see virtual assistants in two years that will be quite robust in certain subject areas. They’ll be good at command and control of the device. They’ll become refined by your usage and the preferences that you have. They’ll also work across platforms. So it will follow you from your tablet to your TV to your phone, etc.

Walt: Might I be able to walk around my house and expect it to be like the Starship Enterprise?

Ricci: Many consumer electronics manufacturers are working on this and will want to brand the experience. They’re putting sensors around you.

Walt: So there will be microphones embedded around the house?

Ricci: There might be. But you might talk to the smartphone. And the assistant will follow you around the house and into the car.

Ricci says Nuance’s technology is essentially a standard in cars. Walt says it doesn’t work very well. Ricci agrees it still needs work.

Ricci: We’ll be able to bring more cloud-based services to the car and that will help improve the service.

11:11 am: Walt has just opened the floor for Q&A.

Question: Is Nuance client-based (locally) or cloud-based? Ricci says it depends on the application. Some smart phones are a hybrid. Cars have to have a local component. On the iPhone, for example, it’s both. Siri is cloud-based, but there’s some embedded bits to it as well.

Question from Steve Wildstrom about voice control on television. The problem is that TVs are noisy. How far are you from solving that?

Ricci says the acoustical situation is challenging. Noise-filtering technology is getting better. The next generation of televisions will contain some of that technology. He has seen demonstrations where a TV can pick out the voice of the user at a distance in a noisy environment. No one is happy with the current way we interact with TVs. Voice would be a natural way to make it simpler. It used to be that the signals in cars, which are also noisy, you just couldn’t use speech.

Question from Esther Dyson about lawsuits that tend to follow Nuance, and also about Carl Icahn’s interest in it.

Ricci says the mobile world in particular is very litigious. About Icahn, he says being a public company means doing business with large shareholders. The companies that do best are the ones that focus on their long-term vision.

Question about assistive technology and compliment about some of Nuance’s technology. And a complaint about Windows 8 speech controls that aren’t as good as those in Windows 7.

Ricci: We don’t control Windows, but we provide Dragon on top of Windows. I’ve had more people come up to me and say we’ve been able to help people with motor control problems.

And that’s it.

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