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MS demos PDA voice control that nearly works

By early September it may be possible to talk to a Pocket PC device such as a Compaq iPaq and have it write for you. That's when Microsoft's Research division, MSR, will release a free speech dictation application that runs on the popular handheld.

The dictation application was one of several research projects shown off by Microsoft chairman and 'chief software architect' Bill Gates yesterday during his keynote speech at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in the US.

While the dictation application will be free, you'll need an 802.11b wireless modem, called WiFi, for your iPaq. You'll also need a matching wireless modem on your desktop PC, because that's where the heavy lifting of speech-to-text processing will actually take place. The iPaq lacks the power to handle such a big task by itself.

Finally, you'll need either Office XP, which has a speech engine built-in, or Microsoft's Speech API software developers kit, which also contains the speech engine.

But don't expect your voice transcriptions to be entirely error-free. During his demo during Gates' speech, researcher Derek Jacoby said: "If I get good recognition, then it's promotion time." The application, however, translated it as, "If I get good recognition, menace promotion time." To which Jacoby replied, "I guess not," causing the audience of AI researchers to erupt in laughter.

The free speech dictation application, dubbed an MSR Power Toy, will be available in late August or early September on Microsoft's site.

Gates' speech focused on research attempts to improve computer user interfaces and how AI may be brought into play to accomplish some of those changes.

"We need these advances," Gates said. He pointed out that there are no significant hardware obstacles to future improvements, so software research will be key to making computers easier to use.

Later in Gates' speech, researchers from MSR’s adaptive systems group demonstrated user notification technologies that will be included in Microsoft's .Net web services initiative.

The .Net Notification platform will govern how and when a user receives information such as emails, voice calls, and instant messaging and whether they're directed to the user's PC, handheld, or mobile phone. It's one of four initial HailStorm building-block services that Microsoft intends to supply early next year.

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