E-mail system learns to talk

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The Independent Online
THE software company WordPerfect has introduced technology for converting text messages into speech, writes Nuala Moran.

This will make it possible for people working away from the office to access electronic mail systems by telephone rather than needing a computer, a modem and a telephone line. Users phoning in can have messages entered as text read to them, leave messages and arrange for information to be faxed to them.

This represents an entirely new way of using the phone, according to Neil McAslan of WordPerfect. 'This type of telephone access not only allows workers to remain in touch with office computers, but also with everyone on the company's computer network, from anywhere in the world, at any time,' he says.

'It will go a long way towards eliminating the need for people on the move, such as sales forces, service engineers or accountants, to go to their office just to perform basic administrative tasks. For people working abroad in different time zones there will no longer be the need to keep unsocial hours just to keep in touch with their home base.'

In many respects telephone access works like a sophisticated voice-mail system. When users phone in they are given pre- recorded voice commands on how to access their messages or send messages to others by using the telephone keys. The clever bit is a technology called Smooth Talker, licensed from the US company First Byte, that converts text into speech.

This means that users in the office can carry on keying in messages to others on the electronic mail system, while a colleague accessing the system from a phone can listen to the message.

As yet the process does not go the other way - speech messages left by callers can only be listened to. Mr McAslan said the company planned to incorporate speech-to-text technology, licensed from the UK company Dragon Speech Technology, later this year.