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12/3/2010
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Google Acquires Phonetic Arts

The company is characterizing the deal as a move toward Star Trek-style voice interaction with computers.

Continuing its investment in voice interaction, Google on Friday said that it had acquired Phonetic Arts, a U.K.-based maker of speech synthesis software.

Phonetic Arts confirmed the deal on its Web site, noting the varied opportunities to integrate its speech synthesis technology with Google's products and services. No price was disclosed.

In a blog post, Mike Cohen, manager of speech technology at Google, observes that Google has already made significant strides integrating speech input into its products. He points to Voice Search, Voice Input, and Voice Actions on Android mobile phones and automatic speech-to-text caption transcription on YouTube.

"We are excited about their technology, and while we don’t have plans to share yet, we’re confident that together we’ll move a little faster towards that Star Trek future," wrote Cohen.

Buying Phonetic Arts addresses the issue of speech output. Phonetic Arts' speech synthesis software is designed to produce synthetic speech that doesn't sound robotic. Clicking on the Listen button for a phrase generated by Google Translate provides some sense of how Google might use this technology to improve its services.

Google may also be able to use speech synthesis to make its products more accessible for the sight-impaired.

Google's commitment to speech shouldn't be seen as an abandonment of keyboard-based input, however. Just two months ago, Google acquired Blind Type, a developer of software-based keyboard technology for touch-typing on mobile phones.

But voice interaction is starting to have a significant impact on Google's advertising revenue. The company launched voice search for mobile two years ago and now a quarter of search queries on Android devices are spoken. Perhaps in time, users will be able to receive search results and ads as speech too.

The acquisition of Phonetic Arts is Google's 25th this year, or 26th if Google's reported offer to buy Groupon has been accepted.

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