Talking computer promises PC revolution

Will your computer start answering back?

An Israeli technology firm is claiming a breakthrough with a computer capable of teaching itself to speak and allowing its user to operate it using voice alone.

Scientists at Artificial Intelligence Enterprises (Ai) based in Tel Aviv, Israel, say they have developed a computer that has learnt to talk like a toddler.

If successful, the scheme promises to do away with keyboards and bring an era of more personal home computers.

The project has been named HAL, after the self-aware computer in Stanley Kubrick's seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which spoke directly to astronauts aboard a mission to Jupiter.

Ai says it has adopted an unconventional approach to creating a truly conversant computer. Instead of using a set of statistical rules and a vocabulary database to approximate human conversation, Ai says its computers have just a simple set of learning algorithms and develop speech by talking to humans.

According to Ai, the computer has even fooled observers into thinking they are communicating with a child. This is symbolic as it represents the acid test for intelligence devised by British mathematician Alan Turing.

"Once it exists, there are millions of uses for it," said Ai's chief scientist Jason Hutchens in an interview withNew Scientist magazine.

Ai has yet to demonstrate its technology, but the promise of more human computing has already sparked interest from some researchers. Steve Grand, a British artificial intelligence researcher developing a robot with learning capabilities, says that language could hold the key to home computing in the future.

"Language is important to communicating with computers, and it's nice to see learning being used," he said. Grand said there are also benefits to being able in input and view data on screen, but that speech could become an important part of home computing.

"I suppose the acid test will be if it starts locking people outside of their space ships," he added.

Take me to ZDNet's Artificial Intelligence Special Report.

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