12:30 PM

Yahoo Adds Speech Recognition To Portal Services

Customers can use the phone to hear their E-mail.

Yahoo Inc. is partnering with speech-recognition companies Nuance and SpeechWorks International and voice-over-IP hosting company Net2Phone to add voice-activated dialing and speech-recognition data retrieval to its portal services. Financial details of the deal weren't disclosed

Customers who sign up with Yahoo and pay $4.95 per month can use voice commands to retrieve stock quotes, weather information, or have their E-mail read to them via the phone. SpeechWorks text-to-speech software converts text-based information in a customer's My Yahoo portal or E-mail account into speech. Through Nuance speech-recognition software, Yahoo customers also will be able to use phone cards to make calls on a land or mobile phone by accessing phone numbers from an address book stored in a Yahoo database. The information in the Yahoo address book is converted into voiceXML, an emerging standard that allows voice-activated access to the Internet. The voiceXML-converted phone numbers are then sent to Net2Phone, which connects the call on its VOIP network.

Speech recognition has been criticized for being unreliable and choppy, but Yahoo says the technology is coming of age. "We have been evaluating voice-recognition products for the last couple months," says Madhu Yarlagadda, director of Yahoo voice services. "We believe speech recognition is at a point where recognition is high and people are using it." Before installing voice-recognition access to Yahoo portal data, Yahoo customers could access E-mail and other data via touch-tone phones.

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