|November 6, 2000|
Editor: Karyl Scott (email@example.com)
Data on command
New voice-driven search technology could soon make it possible to build applications that let users search the company database from the nearest telephone. Moreover, there would be no need to specially prepare the data for voice access. Phonetic Systems Inc.'s Voice Search Engine is intended as building-block technology for business developers and others. Developers could use the technology to create value-added services built around voice-access capabilities. The new technology could also prove especially useful for creating voice-search applications that can serve up data to Web-savvy cell phones.
Phonetic Systems likens its Voice Search Engine to an Internet search engine, where developers use standards-based application programming interfaces to make data accessible via voice search commands. Since the technology is IP-enabled, it can work with front-end interfaces such as voice browsers for natural-language applications that serve up search results to Internet users. It also seems like a good fit for applications such as Wireless Application Protocol--or WAP--cell phones that combine a rudimentary data display with voice-input capabilities.
Phonetic Systems has a heritage of working with service providers in a number of key areas--call centers, speech-enabled public directory assistance, call routing, and voice-activated dialing. The technology is aimed at three markets: Internet voice portals, service providers, and enterprise networks.
According to company officials, traditional speech recognition has a limited vocabulary size of several thousand words, while its Voice Search Engine can scale to millions of records. Phonetic Systems' supports this claim by describing the separation of the Voice Search Engine speech-recognition technology from the affiliated database search engine. Phonetic Systems believes this logical separation will make it easier to increase the database size without requiring it to modify the speech-recognition component. Thus, vocabulary size becomes less of a limiting factor.
Another advantage of the two-component architecture is that it lets speech recognition take place at a relatively constant rate, without any performance slowdown as the size of the vocabulary database increases.
The speech-recognition technology works by breaking speech into phonemes, which are among the smallest units of speech. It then runs the phonemes through a pre-defined recognition network. The database search engine, in turn, is able to take the output of previous search sessions, make some high-probability value judgments, and use those informed guesses to find the best matches. This has the effect of decreasing search time while also increasing accuracy.
Lucent Technologies Inc. will also sell the Voice Search Engine products in the United States.
Illustration by Rick Smith
Now you see it, now you don't
Worried that your sensitive data will be hacked, stolen, or destroyed by a virus? Riccardo Bracco, president and chief operating officer of the security firm Gianus Technologies Inc., has a bold statement you may find comforting: Soon, you'll have nothing to worry about. That's thanks to the new Phantom security application, which Bracco says will make it impossible for viruses, unauthorized users, and other threats to access data and applications.
The Milan, Italy, company says the Phantom Security System splits a computer's hard drive in two by creating a virtual hard drive that users can make "appear" and "disappear" by clicking an icon and entering a password. When users "vaporize" their virtual hard drive, Bracco says, unauthorized users can't gain access--what can't be seen, can't be hacked.
Unlike typical password systems, Phantom doesn't compare passwords entered by the user against a password file, Bracco says. Instead, Phantom assumes all passwords are correct, but the application only makes the hidden drive visible when the correct password is entered. If an incorrect password is entered, the system merely reboots, and protected data remains hidden.
As a result, if an industrious hacker decides to apply some brute force password-hacking tools against Phantom, the hidden Phantom drive won't respond or indicate that it even exists. "The computer will simply keep rebooting with each failed password attempt. The system will appear normal with no indication that the hidden drive exists," Bracco says.
If the system ends up in the hands of a skilled engineer, Bracco says it would be impossible for the engineer to successfully hack into the system. When the software recognizes that someone is trying to engineer a way to rematerialize the hidden drive, all data and applications will be wiped out, making it impossible to reconstruct the data.
"That's only in extreme cases, like when a hard drive is stolen from Los Alamos. Most people will never have to worry about being in this situation," says Bracco.
Because the Phantom doesn't use encryption and is based on a method to "dematerialize" and re-create a hard drive based on a proprietary twin operating system, Bracco says applications and files hidden on the Phantom protected drive won't be affected by viruses or other forms of malicious code. They'll infect the viewable hard drive but won't be able to access the hidden drive while Phantom is activated.
So far, only 70 users worldwide are using Phantom. But that may change quickly as Gianus proves successful. Phantom will only be sold with new computers and through partnerships with security consulting firms. The company says it's involved in negotiations with computer manufacturers interested in bundling the application with their hardware, but no deals have been signed yet. Gianus says it's talking with Toshiba, Sun Microsystems, Dell Computer, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, and European manufacturers.
This technique is a radical departure from traditional computer security. "With encryption, hackers and viruses are aware that the file exists and those files can be stolen, cracked, or destroyed later," Bracco says. "Data protected by the Phantom is invisible. Anyone trying to look for sensitive data will see absolutely nothing."
Hire workers, instantly
You need it when? That question has provoked innumerable jokes in the business world, but a new Web site aims to eliminate its potential to be used as an excuse by improving companies' chances of hiring contract and temporary workers in real time. InstantWork.com uses instant-messaging technology to put businesses quickly in contact with contractors and temp workers. By exploiting the immediacy of instant-messaging services, businesses in search of workers for projects can expedite hiring and communicate more efficiently, thus saving time and money.
InstantWork.com is designed to help businesses keep track of which freelance workers are online, search for new workers across a wide range of skill classifications, and monitor the progress of projects for which workers have already been hired. Prospective job candidates can advertise their skills and search for suitable projects on InstantWork.com. It works across the four major instant-messaging services: America Online, ICQ, Microsoft, and Yahoo.
PresenceWorks Inc. created InstantWork.com using a software toolkit that can be purchased by businesses interested in deploying presence-based systems. Detecting presence--that is, the status of someone's online availability--is the key concept behind PresenceWorks' software.
The software ties workers into the major instant-messaging services and lets businesses place presence information on Web pages and in applications, databases, and
E-mail, making it possible to alert colleagues as to who is online at any given moment.
PresenceWorks also offers a suite of instant-messaging tools to help businesses act on information. Privacy and security are built into the software. Any business using PresenceWorks can see status information only for those contacts who have opted to share their instant-messaging information with that business.
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