Unisys Corp has introduced its Natural Language Speech Assistant, a suite of development tools and runtime components designed to simplify the creation of speech recognition applications that intelligently interact with callers over the telephone. The company touts its NLSA as an open environment that allows interactive voice response (IVA) developers to create applications across a number of different speech recognition platforms, including those from AT&T Corp, Lernout & Hauspie NV and Nuance Communications. In early 1995, Unisys tested various speech recognizers from companies like these and found that applications based on them simply weren’t deployable. When a new and more functional generation of recognizers was available Unisys found that developers were still hesitant to create new apps because of the laborious nature of writing BNF grammars – the code that the recognizers are based on. Thus it began work on NLSA, which acts as a kind of toolkit and interpreter shell for automatically creating BNF grammars around any BNF-based recognizer. Unisys says that its environment allows developers to learn the skills necessary to begin work on apps in less than a day – when it previously took weeks or months to accomplish that. Another feature of NLSA, as its name implies, is its speaker independent natural language capability. Speakers who interact with an application need not choose from a limited selection of rote responses, but can use the more relaxed and varied responses that they might use in communicating with another person. The built-in Speech Assistant Interpreter then deciphers the meaning of text generated by the speech recognizer. Unisys says that the large vocabulary continuous speech recognizers currently in use in apps such as Dragon Systems’ NaturallySpeaking and IBM ViaVoice should be deployable for IVA development in about three years – and it plans to be ready to lead that migration. The company already has about a dozen partners and resellers that have adopted the NLSA approach to development.
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