Voice recognition system handles multiple requests

Mark Russell

What is the capital of Gabon and who is its political leader? Ten years ago you would probably have had to visit the nearest public library to obtain that sort of information. Today, of course, the Internet will deliver answers to almost every query imaginable in minutes.

The next step in the evolution of the information superhighway will be voice-enabled searches of the Internet. From wherever you are, you will be able to dial a number, make your request in a language of your choice and, minutes later, the information will be delivered by a computer-generated voice at the other end of your telephone.

That scenario, says InfoTalk Corporation chief executive officer Alex Leung, is just around the corner.

In this year's awards competition, InfoTalk Corp won a Hong Kong Industrial Technology Centre Corporation Technological Achievement Award for its VoiceTouch conversational speech recognition and natural language engine.

What sets VoiceTouch apart from similar products is its ability to recognise and process queries in three languages - Mandarin, Cantonese and English.

'As of today, we have the world's only tri-lingual speech recognition system. The fact that our product covers Chinese and English means it covers most of the world's population,' Mr Leung said. 'We have other language programmes under development and expect to be able to expand our services to other Asian languages soon.' VoiceTouch is also capable of processing single queries delivered in two different languages, he said. For example, someone could telephone a provider of weather infor mation and ask for the United States in Mandarin, and then name San Francisco in English - and still obtain a current weather forecast.

Already, customers of one major Asian telephone company are benefiting from VoiceTouch, which is providing directory assistance and other operator services. Companies using the technology are able to make significant savings on staff and other costs generally associated with the provision of information services.

Mr Leung said the system was a significant improvement on the frustrating process of callers responding to a recorded message and having to punch in different digits before they could obtain the services they required.

A range of industries could benefit from the voice recognition application. In the banking sector, callers could obtain the latest stock price information or transfer money between accounts, 24 hours a day.

Travel and transport companies, which traditionally have to answer a large volume of telephone enquiries, could also improve their customer service by using the system.

VoiceTouch can deal with many queries, such as callers seeking account enquiries, flight arrival or departure details, even in a supply chain management environment, where a merchant could check the status of a particular shipment.

Utility companies, which typically provide a variety of customer services over the telephone, could enable customers to check their accounts and perform monthly billing transactions.

InfoTalk Corp, based in Kowloon Tong, was founded in 1996 with an initial staff of only three but has grown '10 times' since then, Mr Leung said. The company's founders collectively have decades of experience in the speech recognition, telecommunications and software development fields.