Tag Archives: cell phone

iPhone voice recognition app presages a new mobile interface

A newly-launched iPhone application allows Google searches through voice alone. This brings us closer to when non-computing types can work and play in a Web 2.0 world. Imagine: If this future comes to pass, productivity increases in many industries would be huge.

More significant to us marketers, large swaths of the workforce will no longer consider the computing world to be hostile — or at the very least, impenetrable. As I speculated two years ago many workers simply will not make portable computing a habit until it is easy enough to do through speech alone.

You might consider this Part II of a two-part post. Last week I reported on Powerset, Microsoft’s acquisition in semantic search. Now, here is an exciting stride in the the voice-recognition half of the hands-free computing equation.

Below is how the New York Times characterized the voice recognition arms race (at least, the race for the juicy prize of mobile search dominance):

Both Yahoo and Microsoft already offer voice services for cellphones. The Microsoft Tellme service returns information in specific categories like directions, maps and movies. Yahoo’s oneSearch with Voice is more flexible but does not appear to be as accurate as Google’s offering. The Google system is far from perfect, and it can return queries that appear as gibberish. Google executives declined to estimate how often the service gets it right, but they said they believed it was easily accurate enough to be useful to people who wanted to avoid tapping out their queries on the iPhone’s touch-screen keyboard.

The service can be used to get restaurant recommendations and driving directions, look up contacts in the iPhone’s address book or just settle arguments in bars. The query “What is the best pizza restaurant in Noe Valley?” returns a list of three restaurants in that San Francisco neighborhood, each with starred reviews from Google users and links to click for phone numbers and directions.

The emphasis above is mine. Here’s a demo of the new Google app for the iPhone:

This is going to get very interesting, very fast.

As Raj Reddy, an artificial intelligence researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, reported in the NY Time’s piece: “Whatever [Google] introduces now, it will greatly increase in accuracy in three or six months.”

The semantic search problem, when solved, will help computers understand what people are saying based on their wording and a phrase’s context. On the other hand, voice recognition requires something at least as daunting: Penetrating regional accents. The most visible flaw in this first full week of the iPhone app’s release is it is baffled by British accents.

ChaCha on! Use free cell phone texts to settle bets and get smarter

Yesterday, comments in a post about changing book readership levels proved that my assumptions are not a given. They may even be wrong. Unlike me, some think that rising book sales levels is proof that readership is actually growing.

I’m of the opinion that gross book sales are an unreliable measure.

For instance, the only two publishing break-out stories of the past decade are the successes of Scholastic Publishing, which has the Harry Potter series, and Wiley Publishing, which has the For Dummies series. I’m over-simplifying, but one could say that unless you’re a child, or a “dummy,” your consumption of books isn’t growing year-to-date.

Or is it?

A few minutes ago, after reading a comment in my post by Matt Davis, I decided to reach out to an “impartial” third party. Here is the comment that spurred me on:

Your link claims an increase in book sales versus the previous year. Couple this with the “1 in 4 Americans Read No Books” stat, and my conclusion is that passionate readers are numerous. It’s the passive or non-interested reader that is fading away. Am I wrong?

I don’t know, Matt. Not anymore!

So I used a service on my cell phone that I’ve been meaning to try for some time. Think of it as a library Ready Reference service, but via text messaging. And, at least for now, it’s free. (Standard texting costs in your cell phone plan apply, of course!)

I’m speaking of ChaCha. Reading reports about it intrigued me. I love the idea of settling bets quickly and (hopefully) conclusively. And hey, I can certainly stand to get smarter on stuff.

So I just texted this to the ChaCha short code (242242):

Are more people reading books today versus in the past, or less?

Four minutes later, this is what was texted back to me:

Before the internet and TV and other electronics, people read more books. But now the number have went down a lot [sic]. ChaCha! http://search.chacha.com/u/j02abxvf

On the surface this answer looks good (poor grammar notwithstanding). But if you click on the source link, you have to ask yourself about the quality of the information this answer was based on.

My take-away: Who knows who is right? But for a fun way to settle a question, I like this quick and free service. It might even help with Trivial Pursuit.

ChaCha on!