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Jewish World Review
Nov. 28, 2008
/ 1 Kislev 5769
You talk, it searches
Somewhere, maybe, James Doohan is smiling today. You remember the
affable Canadian actor, whose Scotty on "Star Trek" was often talking
to the computer, even if (in one film) it was the mouse of an old
Apple Mac, don't you? Doohan, a Canadian, died in 2005, but his brogue
affected for the part lives on.
Well, yesterday, I "spoke" to my iPhone and it found a hotel for
me. I did this not by calling 4-1-1, but by using Google's updated
Google Search software. You talk, it looks stuff up.
That seems simple, so simple that Spock might furrow his brow in a a
scorn, but it really isn't. Anyone familiar with the history (and
current state) of voice-recognition software knows that it's not easy
going all the time. With a traditional voice program, you have to
"train" the software to recognize YOUR voice, inflections and do so
with a lot of vocabulary words. It's been a good while since I've
tried this, but it's not easy, and unless injury or incapacity require
it, few of us make the effort. It's just a pain.
Which is why saying something such as "hotels, Warrenton, Virginia,"
into a software program and having it type "hotels, Warrenton, VA,"
and then find said hotels is a minor miracle. Had I wanted to find
lodgings in the place I was then sitting, I could have just said
"hotels" and Google Search, using the GPS features of the iPhone,
would determine my location and found whatever I was looking for, or
so the makers claim.
The voice feature seems to run only on the iPhone right now, though
the location-aware bit is said to run on T-Mobile's G1 "Android"
phone, whose software is made by Google, as well as Windows Mobile
devices. On these. Google's Web site says, the locating is done either
via GPS or knowledge of your nearest cell tower's location. Very nice.
One can only hope it will expand the voice recognition aspect to other
platforms, since Google does seem to want to "spread the wealth,"
applications-wise, to a bunch of computers and operating systems.
(Then again, I'm still waiting for the Mac version of Google's Chrome
Web browser. Sigh.)
This is notable for more than just the "cool" factor. It's a key
evolution in voice recognition software that might render all sorts of
things obsolete. One of these is the often-abysmal directory
assistance service of AT&T Wireless. Call 4-1-1 on an AT&T cellular
phone and you might get your number and you might not. I've even
had operators working under the AT&T name tell me they couldn't find
the corporate headquarters number for AT&T Wireless in Atlanta,
Georgia. It's pathetic. But if Google Search performs as advertised,
it could find those numbers for you; the iPhone operating system would
highlight the number on screen and you can click-to-dial. (Obviously,
such dexterity should not be attempted while driving.)
Other applications are myriad. Ironically, as some have noted, you
can't yet have this search your own online Google directory of
contact, which every Google Mail user has, right? That might come
along "down the road," and if it does, you suddenly have something
What fascinates me and what Google isn't advertising yet is how
they got the voice software to recognize voices so effortlessly. I
could see a whole "server farm" of large computers devoted to that
task, but the details are the "secret sauce" here, and Coca Cola might
divulge their formula first.
If you have an iPhone and the Google Search app, it's probably been
updated automatically by now, as mine was. If you don't have the app,
get it, since there's no cost for the software. And if you don't have
an iPhone, here's another, super-cool, reason to drop a hint to Santa
or one of his subordinate Clauses.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com