Web to speak callers” language BY HOWARD WOLINSKY BUSINESS REPORTER
Forget your keyboard, mouse and computer. Go online in a new way–with your old-economy phone.
New telephone gateway software systems soon to hit the market will allow people to speak to a network using voice-recognition software that will fetch and read information from Web sites.
The new systems open up the Web to people who are away from their computers but also to those who don”t own computers and aren”t computer-literate.
“The promise of the Web will be realized when it is universally available,” said Mil Ovan, president of Verascape Inc., a voice platform start-up in Oakbrook Terrace. “With our platform, any phone is Web-enabled.”
The Chicago area is becoming a center for these new systems, with Verascape, Lucent and Motorola among the early entrants. IBM, Voice Genie and General Magic also have voice platform products.
Curtis Tuckey, Chicago-based manager of speech control applications for Oracle Corp., the business software giant, has been testing the Motorola system, and starting next week will test Verascape”s VeraServ platform. Verascape is a spin-out from Vail Systems, a Deerfield telephone applications company.
“We”re expecting an explosion in speech,” Tuckey said. “This is going to be a big deal.” Oracle, for instance, has Web-enabled its software and expects to make it available next over phone gateways.
Tuckey said this revolution is being advanced by VoiceXML, a new software language that allows a dialogue between people and computers. Also helping are dramatic improvements in the accuracy of speech-recognition software and the quality of artificial voices.
Businesses will be the major customers for the new platforms to help their employees reach e-mail and software inside the companies while they are on the go, using cell phones and Palm Pilots, Tuckey said.
Consumer applications will come more slowly, he predicted: “It will be more a convenience than a necessity for consumers. It will take longer for penetration.”
The VeraServ Voice Platform combines voice recognition software that understands the spoken word with text-to-speech software that searches for and then can read aloud pertinent information from Web sites. Users are able to get information such as stock quotes or can order goods just by talking to a Web site on their phones.
When people call a system using VeraServ, they are presented with open-ended questions about what they hope to accomplish, such as obtaining a stock quote or ordering a product.
VeraServ, which is expected to be commercially available in July, identifies key words, and then answers questions or orders products by reading information from the company”s Web site.
Ovan, a former Motorola marketing executive, said for companies with comprehensive Web sites, his system opens a new medium to communicate with customers.
He expects major corporations, Internet service providers, government agencies and application service providers, which lease software, to be major markets. Verscape will charge $100,000 for a basic system to several million for a complex application.
Companies or their consultants will have to write their own scripts in the VoiceXML language to phone-enable their sites.