After previous editions in Silicon Valley, the widely acclaimed eComm conference is now coming to Europe! If there’s one conference that European telecom innovators and strategists shouldn’t miss, this is it. See you in Amsterdam?
Archive for the ‘Events’ Category
Last Tuesday at the iMinds conference in Ghent my speech application prototype with realtime Belgian train times got a Bronze INCA Award. Here’s what the jury had to say:
A practical application shows the clear potential for new applications by voice via any phone using public data and open APIs (that are unfortunately not available yet).
About 25% of my code and time was indeed spent on the development of an (obviously) invisible screen-scraping Web service layer on top of www.railtime.be. Judgeing from the feedback I got before, during and after iMinds, there would have been 5 or 10 times as many public transport related INCA submissions, if only Infrabel, De Lijn, MIVB etcetera had done the effort of opening up their internal web services to the development community.
So, in case the folks at IBBT and the newly to-be-elected politicians are looking for a low-cost initiative with an immediate impact on innovation and value creation in the local ICT sector: have the Belgian and Flemish government agencies and companies open up their data. Make this your top priority for this year. No, this month. No, this week!
Since the train delay voice application demo submitted for the INCA Award does not only exist in Dutch, I thought a French video was also in order. Here it is:
What’s more, IBBT also announced an excellent new initiative for innovative developers: the INCA Awards, with €20K in prize money. The deadline for submission is tomorrow evening – still working on my project! The winners will be awarded at the same iMinds conference on May 12.
See you in Ghent!
See the Plugg website for more details on this European Web startup conference. I’ll be there.
About 175 professionals from the Dutch-speaking speech & language technology community gathered in Brussels yesterday for the second edition of Taal In Bedrijf (”Language At Work”). The main goals of the event were to present results from the government-sponsored STEVIN program, to poll for remaining needs in and around the field, and to reflect on the best way to address those needs in post-STEVIN times.
The morning sessions focused on practical applications of Dutch speech and language technology in diverse areas such as multimedia, games, written communication, E-government, E-health, E-learning, (semi-)automated translation, mobility, logistics, and business intelligence. Quite a few of the applications presented have been or are being developed under STEVIN’s demonstrator subprogram, which attracted one million euro, or 8.7% of the total 5-year STEVIN budget.
The breadth and versatility of speech and language technology makes that it is almost always combined with other technologies, as part of a broader solution. As a result, the speech & language technology field as a whole is somewhat diffuse and difficult to grasp to outsiders. During my presentation, I therefore pleaded in metaphorical terms for a “TST Inside” logo (TST = Taal- en SpraakTechnologie) to improve the visibility and accessibility of technological resources like parsers, recognizers, spoken and written corpora, grammars or ontologies. More practically speaking: if we want our companies and fellow citizens to know and use our beloved tools & techniques, this is the time for existing distribution agencies like the TST-Centrale to step up, enter the front-stage and play a more pro-active and visible role. This extension of duties may require an organizational upgrade from its current project status within the INL to an autonomous agency with clear strategies, budgets, targets, plus travelling sales people, lobbyists, and … its own website!
As for the Dutch and Flemish governments’ role, their classic function as subsidizer can be complemented as well. For a start, government departments and public companies (in the European sense) could take the lead themselves and apply speech and language technology in their own daily operations. There is still a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked in this area, especially in Flanders. Three examples, to name just those: De Lijn (public transport company), the Vlaamse Infolijn (general number for government inquiries), or VDAB (Flemish Work Agency).
Another recommendation for the Flemish speech & language field is to structurally organize ourselves, like our Dutch friends from NOTAS already started doing … seven years ago. My own positive experience with the Speech Technology Workgroup within ContactCentres.be -thank you, Peter Edel, for the presentation yesterday- has shown that self-organization is a necessary condition to create a sector in the minds of innovation managers and other decision makers. As any marketing student can tell: if our customers can’t mentally locate us, we don’t exist.
So let’s keep up the good work, and make some (more) noise. Oh yeah, and keep on improving our technologies. But that’s another discussion.
Ten days ago the third edition of Philippe Poux‘ brainchild VocalExpo was held at the CNIT La Défense in Paris, France. VocalExpo brings together industry professionals and customers in the French (speaking) market active at the interface of speech technology and customer relationship management. Paris is only an 80 minute Thalys trip away from Brussels, so your servant was there.
The name of the exposition hall was Darwin. Aptly chosen, as the history of speech technology is an evolutionary tale, with predator companies eating smaller species – see Nuance’s recent acquisition of Philips Speech Recognition Systems – and new technologies and applications seeing the light at an ever increasing pace. One basic technology that has acquired a prominent place today in many companies’ offerings is voice biometrics – more on this below. Another trend in the making is that the web browser will gain in importance as a natural interface for voice input, to the detriment of the plain phone. Atos Worldline demoed a browser-based virtual contact centre, written in Flex. The solution allows customers to contact a company’s helpdesk right from their web browser, providing a rich interaction which includes chat & voice, document sharing, and co-browsing. In the demo I tried, it was another person pushing the buttons on the other side of the link. But with an IVVR system at the back-end, the opportunities for multi-channel customer service are only bounded by imagination. The major blocking factors I see for large-scale adoption are customer inertia, lack of usability and lack of security, none of which are insurmountable.
Speaking of security and authentication, the most interesting part of the day was the panel discussion on voice biometrics featuring Alexander Huggins from Nuance, François Chaffard from Prosodie, who also represented Voice.Trust in this panel, and finally Ariane Nabeth-Halber, Technical Director NaturalVoice at Hotline. The adoption of voice biometrics in France is hampered somewhat by regulation from the French privacy authorities requiring a case-by-case authorization to use the technology, as well as the explicit agreement of company personnel representatives and the individual users. On the technical side, there were some critical remarks on the alleged immaturity and incompleteness of the MRCP v2 standard, which slows down technical integration of speaker verification engines in a VoiceXML application environment. This being said, the basic voice biometrics technology itself has been around for quite a number of years already and is certainly deemed mature enough for large-scale deployment. Ms. Nabeth-Halber was keen to stress that the balance between security and convenience is also a matter of good VUI design and adaptive dialogs: for example, callers authenticated through their voice and their phone number can pass right away, whereas grey-zone cases do get a second question to answer. The application context which defines the monetary cost of false acceptances versus false rejections is also of prime importance in setting the correct verification thresholds.
Under the auspices of the Taalunie (= [Dutch] Language Union), the Dutch-speaking speech & language industry from The Netherlands and Flanders will meet in Brussels on November 19, 2008 for the second edition of Taal In Bedrijf (best translated as “Language At Work”). The first, 2005 edition in Eindhoven attracted 290 professionals from academia and industry.
I have gladly accepted to moderate the afternoon plenary discussions on the continuation of a joint Dutch/Flemish Speech and Language Technology programme.