British Telecommunications Plc has developed an automated directory-assistance service that works without human operators. The company said it could be up and running within three years. The system recognizes names and letters of the alphabet spoken by the caller and gives out the required number, apologizing if it picks up the wrong information and starting off the whole process again. British Telecom opted for a speech recognition and voice synthesis system over touch-tone telephones as a way of communicating with the robotic system, as the touch-tone method was deemed too complex. Touch-tone is fine for numbers, but not names, it says. A national system for the UK would have to cope with more than 25 million names, but British Telecom is confident it will work. British Telecom is also likely to boost income by selling the system to companies for automated switchboards.