Voice Recognition

The dream of machines that are capable of handling human speech draws closer with this inexpensive marriage of software smarts and gadgetry by the computer voice-recognition software house of Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products USA Inc.

This $199 product delivers surprisingly well by letting its users dictate into a tiny digital recorder and then having the computer convert the recorded talk to text automatically.

For those who carry a laptop only to input notes, this nifty system replaces a seven-pound portable computer with a two-ounce Olympus DS-150 digital voice recorder, which in its own right is a bit of a high-technology wonder. After recording one's notes into the Olympus, that gadget gets plugged into the computer by way of the serial port, and the software converts the recorded speech into computer-readable text.

Getting it all to work requires substantial effort training the software to recognize one's voice as it comes off the tiny digital tape recorder. But after that, I was able to get nearly 90 percent accuracy from speech first dictated into the Olympus while walking about on the streets and then downloaded into my computer for transcription. Recognition was significantly better, at close to 98 percent, in my nice quiet office.

L&H Voice Xpress Mobile Professional

by Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products USA Inc.

$199

For Windows 98/Pentium II or AMD K6

www.lhs.com

800-380-1234

-- James Coates, Chicago Tribune

E-Customer Service

E-commerce may be booming, but it's still an infant industry with plenty of start-up problems. For instance, surveys show that some 60 percent of Web site visitors who start an order form never complete it. This is partially due to unanswered questions and other problems faced by consumers before they buy. What is needed is some way for these potential buyers to immediately get questions answered, doubts put to rest and orders taken. GlobalPhone has set out to accomplish that with its WebCallback service.

Once installed, WebCallback creates a button on your Web site. When a customer accesses your site and decides to buy your product, all he does is click on the button. A small dialogue window pops up and asks for the customer's phone number. After the customer enters it, the window disappears and he continues to view your Web site while the WebCallback process begins.

GlobalPhone's system first calls your phone. When you pick up, it alerts you or plays a customized message to your staff that announces an incoming call. As you prepare to answer, it calls the customer's number. When he answers, you are both connected.

Other features let you set WebCallback to work only during business hours. Attempts to use it after hours let you route calls to an answering service or prompt customers to send an e-mail with their phone numbers for a next-day follow-up.

Charges are 16.9 cents per minute anywhere in the continental United States. Remember that two calls are being placed by GlobalPhone for each connection; one to you and one to the customer.

-- Craig Crossman -- Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

WebCallback

by GlobalPhone

www.webcallback.com

(800) 705-5033 or (703) 533-2122