SAN FRANCISCO (08/17/2000) - The lease on my apartment forbids animals, so instead of getting a cute puppy or kitten, I turned to my PC and got an IVAN.
Specifically, I turned to One Voice Technologies Inc. and its new downloadable tool, myIVAN.
Called an "interactive human interface for the Internet," myIVAN allows you to navigate the Internet by voice. It's another implementation of One Voice's technology.
IVAN, short for Intelligent Voice Animated Navigator, appears on your screen in the form of an animated globe with arms, legs, and facial features. He can talk to you, listen to you, and take you around the Internet. He's friendly, obedient, and even sort of cute. But he's almost as much work as a real pet.
IVAN is available as a free download, but as the myIVAN site warns you, it won't be a quick one if you have a dial-up connection. The site estimates a dial-up download and installation will take 10 to 11 hours. In actuality, it took a lot longer. If you have a broadband connection, downloading and installing IVAN should take under an hour. A CD-ROM version of IVAN requires three to four weeks for shipping, plus $6.45 to $13.77 for shipping costs.
I chose to download the free version on my 56-kilobits-per-second connection.
Instead of 11 hours, it took almost a week for me to install IVAN. The download stalled several times, causing my Internet connection to hang up. I didn't have to start the entire process over, because One Voice provides a user name and password so you can pick up where you left off. But the process was anything but fun. In fact, housebreaking a puppy might be more enjoyable.
Cute, But Not Always Effective
When IVAN was, at long last, installed and running, I had become skeptical. The laborious download process lowered my expectations of IVAN. And after getting to know him, I wish I could say it was worth all the trouble. While IVAN may be cute and even funny, his practical applications are limited.
To run IVAN, you need a headset with a close talking microphone. One Voice claims IVAN can understand human language, so you can speak just as if you are talking to a friend. The application takes you through a quick tutorial in which IVAN adjusts to your voice. He even learns to call you by name (although his pronunciation may not be the best). The program launches its own browser, so IVAN can guide you from Web site to Web site. He responds to commands such as "Find me a picture of George W. Bush," or "Show me a recipe for baked chicken." He can also launch sites that you request by name.
But IVAN's hearing isn't always the best. Your command shows up on screen in text form so you can see how IVAN heard it and enter the necessary corrections.
IVAN heard me correctly about 25 percent of the time on a good day. Other times, he misinterpreted everything I said, even his own name.
IVAN does have some clever features. For instance, when you call his name, he bows to you and occasionally refers to you as "O Great One." He also stops listening when you tell him.
But these clever features are not enough to make up for all the time you spend trying to get him to understand you. After all, isn't voice recognition technology designed to save time by eliminating all the typing?