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Media invitation: Talking with machines


’But I’ve just told you my postcode, damn you!’

We all know the frustrations of talking to computers down the phone. But don’t panic, help is at hand.

Scientists the world over are converging on the University of East Anglia next week to bang the stroppy robots to rights. The two-day workshop on August 30-31 will brainstorm ideas for improving human-to-machine communication of all types.

“Speaking to machines does tend to irritate people – especially when we do our best to speak clearly and they still don’t understand us,” said Dr Ben Milner, of UEA’s School of Computing Sciences. “The technology around speech recognition is improving rapidly, however, and bringing the world’s experts together to thrash out ideas should result in some giant strides forward.”

Organised by the International Speech Communication Association (ISCA), the theme of the workshop is ‘Robustness Issues in Conversational Interaction’ - or ‘Robust2004’ for short.

Some 60 delegates from USA, Japan, Korea and Europe hope to iron out problems caused by dialect, interference from acoustic noise, and drop-outs on mobile phones. They will find ways of avoiding slow and repetitive interactions and examine alternatives to speech, such as lip-reading.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Richard Rose, McGill University, Canada: ‘Robustness against environmental noise’.
  • David Pearce, Speech and Multimedia Interfaces Group, Motorola, UK: ‘Robustness against unreliable transmission channels’.
  • Lou Boves, Department of Language and Speech, University of Nijmegen, Netherlands: ‘Robust conversational system design’.
  • Phil Cohen, Center for Human-Computer Communication, Oregon Graduate Institute, USA: ‘Inclusion of non-speech modalities to improve robustness’.

Simon Dunford | alfa
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