Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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12-Sep-2003

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Burned toast, computers and the human voice



In the future, talking to your toaster and the other programmed appliances and machines in your life might get results you want, according to the author of a Perspective article in the 12 September, 2003 issue of the journal Science. Image courtesy of AAAS.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Toast burns when someone turns the setting to "dark" without telling you.

What if the toaster told you how it was set? What if you told the toaster how dark to make your toast?

In the future, talking to your toaster and the other programmed appliances and machines in your life might get results you want, according to the author of a Perspective article in the 12 September, 2003 issue of the journal Science.

Lawrence Rabiner from Rutgers University in Piscataway, NJ, explains some of the ways that the spoken word, computers and people will probably get mixed together into one big multimedia environment of the not-so-distant future.

One of the key challenges, according to Rabiner, is to develop speech-processing devices that are as easy to figure out and use as telephones.

Instead of chatting with someone on another phone, however, speech and language-processing devices will help you interact with networks jam-packed with voice, audio, video, virtual reality, text-based and visual information. If your toaster-of-the-future were connected to such a network, you might give it voice commands.

In addition, you'll use your voice, and not the usernames and password that you're always forgetting, to identify yourself.

Voice conversations between humans and machines may be possible in many different situations - at home and in public.

"The opportunities for speech and language processing in services and operations are almost limitless," the author writes.

Another technology, speech coding, packages and compresses the speech signal that travels through networks without distorting the signal too much.

Finally, as communication devices shrink in size, it will be easier to use your voice instead of a bulky keyboard and mouse, the author explains.

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Science is published by AAAS, the science society.