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September 15, 2015 • 5 minute read

Six Observations from SpeechTEK 2015

Recently, the team from Interactions attended SpeechTEK 2015, the annual conference focusing on speech recognition, natural language understanding, and customer interaction technology, which we always walk away from with tremendous insight and excitement over the future of our industry. This year, Interactions was represented by members of our technology and design, sales, and marketing teams, providing us with a diverse perspective on the event.

As a Platinum Sponsor, we had the pleasure of participating in four panel presentations, networking with industry thought leaders, and sharing some exciting news of our own, including the appointment of speech technology industry veteran Todd Woodstra to our executive team and the opening of two new technology labs in Murray Hill, NJ and Manhattan, NY.

Immediately following the three-day event, we couldn’t help but share our key takeaways and lessons learned from this year’s SpeechTEK 2015 — straight from team members who were there themselves.

  • “I believe we are at a very exciting crossroads in the speech technology industry and this was evident throughout SpeechTEK 2015,” explained Phil Gray, EVP Business Development. “The era of computing dominated by large screens and fixed keyboards is behind us. With the rapidly emerging Internet of Things (IoT), we are now faced with new challenges and opportunities for next generation’s natural language interfaces.”

Interfacing with virtual assistants was another area of focus that dominated SpeechTEK conversations.

  • “When discussing virtual assistants, there was a specific emphasis on the need to break out of today’s device-centric and OS-centric offerings to create universal virtual assistants for the enterprise,” said Michael Johnston, Lead Inventive Scientist. “In a session dedicated to virtual assistants, we explored the capability of a mobile VA to enable a single point of entry to the broad array of information and services businesses provide to their customers today. What really got people buzzing was how Interactions’ Adaptive-Understanding coupled with the recently acquired AT&T Watson research and technology platform is poised to unlock tremendous growth in this area with enterprises, developers, and other OEMs.”
  • “With four conference tracks and many networking opportunities, SpeechTEK 2015 provided something for everyone,” said Mary McKenna, Director of Product Marketing, Natural Language, at Interactions. “The conference was ultimately the quest for solutions that provide the highest accuracy possible while communicating with customers.”

McKenna saw many industry trends at the event including preparing for IoT with speech interfaces; improving automated speech recognition (ASR) and speech analytics using deep neural networks (DNNs); and providing omnichannel interactive voice responses (IVRs).

Michael Pell, Director of Design Services at Interactions, participated in a panel honing in on one of those trends, which asked the question: “Is customer experience truly omnichannel?”

  • “The discussion led to the realization that newer companies who don’t have legacy or acquisition systems have a much easier time implementing cool web-to-phone or phone-to-mobile app experiences than larger companies do. With the exception of some airlines, the audience was unaware of any large company who had a really good, well-integrated multi-channel experience today,” Pell explained. “There is a lot of excitement around the promise of the omnichannel experience and it is coming, but it will take time for companies to catch up with the level of data integration necessary to make truly cool experiences a reality.”
  • “Customer service has drastically changed since the inception of SpeechTEK 20 years ago. Speech user interfaces are still critical, but the blended interaction through multi/omni channel communications was the focus of the show this year,” added Todd Woodstra, Senior Vice President of Sales for Interactions. “Advancements in natural language understanding and personal assistants are landmarks of continuous innovation in speech technology. I was floored to see the level of enthusiasm that Interactions’ Adaptive-Understanding combined with AT&T Watson generated on the tradeshow floor. Customers and vendors took their turn to get a better understanding of Interactions’ breakthrough hybrid software combining a human intent analyst and ASR, that solves a traditional problem in the call center from misrouted calls and unreliable data capture.”

Not surprisingly, the end user played a large factor throughout all SpeechTEK conversations and presentations.

  • How do you apply the technologies we have today — or those that are coming — to enable people to be more efficient? That’s the key theme which ties all of these topics together,” said Jane Price, Vice President of Marketing. “This requires a shift of perception for speech technology from entertainment toward applications that really make a difference. For example, it’s fun to have a device that you can tell to turn off the lights, but at the end of the day, you really can just flip a switch.”

Price continued: “Applications that make a difference will integrate speech and language technology seamlessly within everyday tasks and help make us all more productive. Imagine talking, typing or using gestures as you move through your day to schedule appointments, find directions, order a replacement for your broken phone, and make sure your kids are home safe from school. This means that the technology has to work for, understand, and adapt to the user. Understanding intent, under any condition, is key to success. When technology provides value for mission critical applications, and is seamlessly integrated with how consumers live, everyday usage will take off.”

SpeechTEK and the industry as a whole has progressed since its inception some two decades ago, and the future holds no bounds for such powerful technologies.

Were you at SpeechTEK? What were some of your key takeaways following the conference? Share them with us in the “Comments” below or tweet us @InteractionsCo.

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