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Designing Effective Speech Interfaces by Dean T. Barker, Susan Weinschenk

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Introduction

In 1985 I worked on my first natural language interface. We were building a proof of concept system that would allow top managers at an insurance company to use natural language commands to query a database. If the system didn't know a word that was used, it would come back with a question asking for the meaning of the term it did not know. During an early test one of the users asked, “How much life insurance was sold last year in the Northeast?” The computer questioned us back with, “What is the meaning of life?” How thrilled we were that we had created the first thinking computer!

During the last few months I have talked to many people about this book I was writing. I can't count how many people mentioned the Star Trek computer or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey to me when I would tell them the title of the book. For a while I thought it was neat that people could relate to what I was writing about. After all, if I mention the title of my last book, GUI Design Essentials, to people who are not in the field of computers I usually get blank, glazed stares. As the same comments continued to come, I started to inwardly groan. But as I write this now, in the thick of the project, I have decided that it is significant. The idea of a talking computer and a computer that understands our speech is something different. It's striking. It's a novel idea that captures people's attention and imagination. At first it seems easy to understand why so many people who had seen 2001 ...

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