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AT&T Watson vs. Apple Siri: Talkin' about a smackdown?

AT&T Labs says its Watson speech recognition technologies have been around for more than 20 years, and come this June, it will put APIs and SDKs in the hands of developers who want to give users a way to interact with smartphones, TVs and other devices using their voices.

The potential widespread use of AT&T Watson text-to-speech, natural language processing and voice search technologies would be the latest challenge to the iPhone's Siri technology, which AT&T itself has been touting in new ads featuring Samuel Jackson and Zooey Deschanel.

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AT&T already makes Watson (not to be confused with IBM's Jeopardy champ Watson technology) available via a free iPhone and Android app called Translator that can convert speech into another language on the fly.

John Donovan, senior executive vice president with AT&T technology and network operations, boasts in a blog post that AT&T already uses Watson for other applications such as mobile voice directory search and has 600+ patents in this technology area, but notes that "a great platform is only half the innovation equation. We know the best way to accelerate innovation is by opening our platforms and network services to outside developers."

The first AT&T Watson speech APIs being made available to outside developers will focus on Web search, local business search, question and answer, voice mail to text, SMS, U-verse electronic programming guide and dictaton. Gaming and social media APIs will come down the road. AT&T says by using different categories of APIs, apps can more quickly recognize terms they might need to convert or translate (a TV remote app, for example, could more quickly find movie titles or actors’ names).

Bob Brown tracks network research in his Alpha Doggs blog and Facebook page, as well onTwitter and Google +.

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