Future Watch: Peering into The Future

Security and senses enlivened with speech technologiesAna OrubeondoImagine walking into your office and having your computer log on at your spoken command. That may be far from reality, but similar speech-recognition technologies are within three to five years of mainstream use.

Driven by the steady increase in computing power, speech-recognition and text-to-speech technologies aim to significantly reduce transcription costs, save time, and add more flexibility for end users.

Furthermore, speech recognition promises to reduce inefficiencies in several markets. In the telephony market, human-sounding text-to-speech is creating an alternative way to improve customer service and expand into automated voice systems linked to the Internet. And the growth of handheld devices such as PDAs (personal digital assistants), mobile phones, wearable computers, and hands-free auto communications systems has spawned a steady stream of new applications for small-footprint voice dialling, voice synthesis, and speech recognition.

Although speech recognition is on the verge of exploding into the mainstream, companies are continuing to push the development envelope. Industry-leader IBM is developing identification and verification technology. Its interface uses voice and "knowledge" to identify a user's profile, opening the door for secure access to computing resources, bank accounts, stocks, and other e-commerce transactions.

Referred to as "conversation speech biometrics", IBM's technologies deal with the identity of the human speaker against a database of known speakers, but not with what was spoken or with synthesising that human voice. IBM refers to its technology as "my voice is my password".

At the other end of the spectrum are voice innovations in the virtual assistant market. Last April, Ananova, the World's first virtual newscaster, was born. Currently she has a Web broadcast site, www.ananova.com, delivering news, sports, and entertainment bulletins 24 hours a day. Ananova is already up and running, but it will be three to five years before the technology becomes widely accepted and adopted.

The Lernout & Hauspie RealSpeak technology behind Ananova gathers real-time news and information and converts it to speech and animation on the fly. Companies are looking into using Ananova-type technologies for public appearances at business meetings and trade shows. But other potential uses might include online sales, customer service, e-commerce, and personalisation of the Internet.

In addition to being used over the Internet, Lernout & Hauspie has partnered with Ford Motor to develop a speech interface for automotive applications. This would put speech in automotive devices, thereby eliminating the need to manually control dashboard instruments. Although already in some luxury cars, it will be a good three years before such technology becomes a standard option in all vehicles.

Overall, speech-recognition technologies are showing great promise. IBM's identification and verification technology, cybercharacters such as Ananova, and ventures to put speech in automobiles are just the beginning of an exciting future in voice-recognition and synthesis technologies.

The promise is to bring greater security and ease of use to appliances at the enterprise and consumer levels.

Future Watch: Speech recognition

The advancements in speech-recognition and text-to-speech technology have created alternatives for companies to improve security and service for online sales, customer service, and e-commerce. As it progresses over the next three to five years, the convergence of speech technologies with everyday diction will greatly enhance online communications and open up avenues for future development.

Electronic cash aims to ease shoppers' security fearsLori MitchellOnline shopping has seemingly become commonplace. Or has it? It is widely documented that only one-third of all Internet users have actually made a purchase, held back by security and privacy concerns. In response, merchants have been in search of methods to convert purchasing-shy end users into Web buyers. Electronic cash (e-cash) may prove to be the perfect solution.

Although available today, e-cash has yet to catch on with mainstream users. Gartner analysts predict that e-cash will continue to evolve and mature in the next five years, and that by 2009, electronic payments will grow to 60 per cent of all online transactions compared to the current 14 per cent.

Companies that accept e-cash can expect to see lower charge-back costs from credit cards in addition to expansion of business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and person-to-person e-commerce transactions.

Several main vendors in this space provide businesses and consumers with a means for conducting transactions online through the use of electronic currency. Some of the better known and comprehensive sites in the US where a company can sign up to accept e-cash payments are X.com's PayPal service (www.paypal.com), Flooz (www.flooz.com) and eCash Technologies' Moneta product suite (www.digicash.com).

PayPal and Flooz are both prepaid e-cash services that are ready to be used instantly, whereas eCash Technologies' Moneta product suite includes a variety of electronic payment solutions such as debit, prepaid, P2P, and B2B. Auction sites such as eBay use PayPal and Flooz is an online gift currency that is sent via e-mail and can be spent at any site accepting Flooz currency. The Moneta product suite offers electronic payment software solutions that use digital signature technology based on public-key cryptography.

Also, eCash Technologies works with merchants and financial services to provide online payment options that include debit, prepaid, P2P, and B2B transactions.

You might want to keep an eye on e-cash technology as it becomes mainstream and more and more merchants accept and use this form of payment. E-cash holds the promise of converting transaction-wary consumers into avid Web shoppers -good news for many companies' online sales revenues and overall bottom lines.

Future Watch: E-cash

Available now, e-cash technology is ready for prime-time use. E-cash transaction costs are significantly lower than credit card fees and companies can reduce charges associated with fraud and charge backs. In addition, companies can expect to increase their customer base by accepting e-cash on their sites, turning consumers who worry about security and privacy into full-fledged online shoppers.

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