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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Editorial Pointers

Speech technology is a curious field that has been on the threshold of "emerging" for many years. In 1960, J.C.R. Licklider estimated we would achieve significant speech recognition by 1965. Indeed, I recall sitting in the plush offices of a true industry guru well over a decade ago as he demonstrated the latest in speech-to-text. Every word he spoke appeared instantaneously on his computer screen. Keyboards will be inconsequential in a couple of years, he predicted that day, and speech will be the interface of choice for all computer users.

At the end of the interview, the guru asked if I wanted to "talk to the computer." I moved closer to the microphone and muttered something innocuous about the weather. The screen splashed up letters that did not resemble the English language. I tried again. More gobbledygook. At that point, the guru turned to me in puzzlement, considered my accent and asked where I was born and raised. "Um, New Jersey," I mumbled back. "Oh," was all he could reply, reflectedperfectlyon screen.

Speech technologies have long suffered under the misguided notion that if we can teach even infants to learn and respond to spoken words, surely we can build computerswhich reportedly house more brainpower than infantsto do the same. It's simply not that simple, as this month's special section attests. The authors graciously participating in "Conversational Interfaces" debunk the myths surrounding the various branches of speech technology and offer a true picture of the field, its amazing achievements, and the obstacles that still lie ahead. Guest Editor Jennifer Lai, a speech interface designer at IBM Research, points out that technology continues to improve, but there is still much more work to be done.

Our feature articles offer an intriguing mix of progress and policy. Ram Gopal and Lawrence Sanders contend the only way to stifle software piracy worldwide is to price the products in accordance with each marketplace. Fishkin et al. introduce us to embodied user interfaces, and Davison and Briggs illustrate the benefits of Group Support Systems.

In addition, Peter Neumann examines the technological feasibility of the proposed U.S. missile defense shield in "Inside Risks," and in "From Washington," Neil Munro warns us not to look to the government to heal or head off ethical problems in science. Meg McGinity ponders the day when human movement is traced by chips embedded under the skin in "Staying Connected." And Andrew Appel and Edward Felten contend "fair use" of digitized material should be recognized no matter whoor whatdoes the searching in this month's "Viewpoint" column.

Diane Crawford,

©2000 ACM  0002-0782/00/0900  $5.00

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