Gates demos Microsoft MiPad

Next-generation, voice activated interface could ultimately end up on mobile phones, smartphones and even wrist watches

Speech recognition -- a long-time interest of Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates -- has a new delivery vehicle, of sorts.

Microsoft demonstrated for the first time publicly a prototype of its MiPad (multimodal interactive notepad) technology this week at its Latin America Enterprise 2000 Solutions Conference in Miami. Last summer, Microsoft demonstrated the MiPad behind closed doors to the few hundred chief executives who attended the company's annual CEO Summit.

MiPad is the first demonstration application designed to show off the "Dr Who" interface technology under development by Microsoft Research. Dr Who combines speech recognition and spoken-language processing into a single interface.

While Microsoft declined to divulge the specifics of the hardware it used to show off its so-called "Talk and Tap" technology, which blends voice-recognition and pen-input capabilities, company officials did acknowledge that the MiPad prototype is currently running on a Windows CE client in a networked client-server configuration.

During his keynote speech in Miami on Tuesday, Gates said: "MiPad will be a future form factor of a wireless device. What MiPad will do is integrate the ability of email, calendar, contacts -- all the things Windows CE does -- with a high-speed wireless connection. So I can do voice over it, I can do phone calling, I can anything I would normally want to do with a PDA. And the nice thing about MiPad is it will be voice-activated."

"Gates wants to empower people to access information anywhere, any time on any platform," said XD Huang, senior researcher with the speech technology group at Microsoft Research. "This is part of his NGWS (Next Generation Windows Services) vision."

Once wireless standards become more prevalent, Microsoft could deliver a version of MiPad on a variety of devices, such as mobile phones and wrist watches, officials said. On the back end, all the relevant data would be stored on a server, in Microsoft's view.

If Microsoft does take MiPad commercial, when would users likely see the first deliverables? Huang would not say when this technology might emerge from the labs. "We are advancing the technology rapidly," he said. The speech group "has transferred lots of technologies to the Microsoft product groups".

Based on this track record, Huang said, MiPad is more likely than not to find its way into some type of Microsoft product. He added that a sister group, Intelligent Interface Technologies (which Microsoft spun out of Microsoft Research a few years ago), is already adding a speech interface technology to a number of Microsoft products, including future Office releases and Microsoft Phone, which is due to ship over the next two to five years.

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