Nuance Wintermute and the Growing Competition in Voice Recognition

WintermuteBack in August, Parmy Olson wrote an interesting article in Forbes on some of the challenges that Nuance faces with its digital assistant Wintermute. I wrote about Wintermute in an earlier post. Olson makes the observation that Nuance rolled out its Wintermute personal assistant technology just as Google and Apple might be catching up and arguably even surpassing Nuance at its own game.

Nuance acquired Dragon Naturally Speaking software technology via a round about means from inventors James and Janet Baker. The Dragon dictation software has been a big component of Nuance’s product line.  Nuance also licensed its speech recognition technology to Apple for use in Siri. But with speech recognition becoming such a core capability for today’s smart phone apps, Google and Apple have been investing heavily in developing their own homegrown solutions.

Olson points out that Google’s voice recognition is based on deep learning technology, whereas Nuance’s approach to speech technology relies on statistical inference that analyzes syllable sounds to identify words. The jury is still out on which technical approach has the most promise, but Google’s implementation of voice recognition has been working. What’s even more threatening to competitors is the fact that Google offers its technology free to Android developers. A case in point are the recent German high school grades behind Voicesphere, which we wrote about a few weeks ago.

Apple recently established a research center in Boston where it’s been pursuing speech technology projects. Many of the team members are former employees of a speech software company that was once acquired by none other than Nuance. Observers speculate that Apple is developing its own voice recognition software that will displace the Nuance components from Siri in upcoming versions.

None of these facts proven with any certainty that Nuance is being overtaken by the competition (and current partners). Wintermute’s mission is to learn as much about your preference and habits as possible, store this knowledge in the cloud, and use that data to infer what you want and what you mean. In other words, Nuance has trained Wintermute to read your mind, which is what a really helpful digital companion needs to be able to do. So far Wintermute still seems to be more of a project than a fully fleshed out commercial offering. It’ll be interested to see how this technology pans out for Nuance as the competition in speech technology and personal digital assistants continues to heat up.

Nuance Wintermute a Glimpse of Future Digital Persona

WintermuteMark Hachman wrote an informative piece last week on Nuance’s Wintermute technology. Nuance is bringing to bear powerful tools that it already owns: state of the art speech recognition, natural language processing, and virtual agent technologies used in Dragon Mobile Assistant and Nina, to create a new kind of virtual agent. In fact, as Hachman points out, Nuance’s goal is to create a persona rather than an ‘agent.’

Is such a goal attainable? As we saw in a recent post about Spike Jonze’s movie “Her,” the idea of smart, appealing software agents that can interact on a personal level with humans is entering the mainstream. In “Her,” the smooth-talking Samantha is a disembodied artificial intelligence, but she’s so skilled at learning about her owner and playing to his interests that he’s quickly smitten.

Nuance doesn’t necessarily want you to fall in love with Wintermute, which is apparently a code name for a product that’s not yet available, but it wants you to trust Wiintermute to understand you and to remember the context of your conversations with it. The really cool feature in demos of the Wintermute technology is the smart persona’s ability to infer what you’re asking for, even when you change the platforms or channels that you use to interact with it. In one demo, for example, a Nuance rep asks Wintermute for information on the score of a basketball game. Later, when the rep turns on a TV set, he simply asks Wintermute to put on the game. Wintermute accesses information stored in the cloud about previous interactions to infer that the rep wants to watch the rest of the same game he was asking about earlier, and it sets the channel appropriately.

If Nuance’s technology pans out, we’ll one day have helpful digital assistants that can remember bits of conversations across time and devices, and that can assist us in so many ways, it’s hard to imagine them all. It still remains to be seen how many of us will become hopelessly enamored with our disembodied smart assistants!