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April 27, 2005

Speech Recognition in the mountains of Colorado

Mike Castillo, an engineer at Gold Systems wrote the following email, and with his permission I'm publishing it below.  It is entertaining, it illustrates that people on the street are starting to see the potential in speech recognition, and it shows what can happen when everyone in a company understands that they are in sales.

The only thing I've edited out is the name of the county where this happened and the name of the airline mentioned.  We did not build the application mentioned, but I do fly that airline regularly and I don't want them canceling my frequent flier account.  I'm also publishing this because I'm toying with the idea of a Gold Systems blog that is totally focused on our industry so I want to encourage Mike and others to step up and contribute so I don't have to do all of the writing myself.

Mike's Email:

I just participated in my all too frequent Jury duty (for some off reason, I get called very frequently; something about <this> county is weird). So what does this have to do with Gold? Well, I made several potential sales contacts without really trying, and it was kind of entertaining for me. Here's how it got started. D.A. is questioning jurors to try and decide final pool. D.A. gets to me and says, "you're the computer guy" (we had to fill out a questionnaire, and I had listed my masters degree in computer science.). He asks for more details about what I do. "Well, I write Speech Recognition applications" was my short summary answer. "Is that speech recognition stuff ready for prime time yet?" "I think so. Speech recognition vendors are touting 95% accuracy rates". "But isn't it expensive?" "Well actually Microsoft jumped into the market and lowered the prices. Other vendors seem to also be willing to give more in price in order to preserve their market share." "Hmm... we (<The> County) may need to look into this". "Please give me a call and let's talk. I think we might be able to help you." .... (moves on to next juror). At lunch I give him my contact information. Nothing will probably come from it (especially since we - the jury - voted Not Guilty, so the D.A. wasn't real happy at the end of the trial), but you never know.
But, that's not all. At lunch, I went over the county recorders office to take care of some personal business and a woman comes up to me and says, "Are you the speech rec guy". So she is building homes for disabled people and wants to voice automate them. Turns out she was in the original "large pool" of potential jurors and got "voted out". I explain that Gold System doesn't really do that type of application, but she pushes and really wants help and really decides she wants my number anyways, and I said I might be able to do something on the side (since I have played around with some of the PC based speaker recognition, and actually have played around with home automation stuff.).
Then, during our jury breaks, all the other jurors were all over me with every possible question (e.g. "my I-Mac says it has speaker recognition, should I try and use it?" "I called the <Big> Airlines application once and I cussed it out because it was so bad, and that thing hung up on me. Did your company write that application?") about speech recognition. I've never had so much attention in my life. So I educated 12 other people for a good 15 minutes in speech recognition and basically its ROI 'story'. Who knows, I may have hit another potential customer in all my lectures.
Yes, I do love brownies, but, no, this isn't a brownie point kind of letter. Just think of it as my very first blog posting. Hopefully it's a little interesting.

April 27, 2005 in Speech Recognition | Permalink | Comments (0)

Careful what you type

Matt Hines from CNET News.com reports as published on ZDNet that people who mistype google.com are being redirected to another site full of "Trojan Horse Threats, spyware and backdoors."  I won't repeat the link here, but it is a variation on the spelling of google that anyone might make when they are typing fast.  Be careful, there are bad guys out there.

By strange coincidence another email arrived in my inbox today from Greg Richardson at Cheetah International (they do computer aided transcription - cool stuff).  Greg pointed out that you have to be careful typing www.terrygold.com too.  I get called Jerry a lot, so I'm not surprised that sometimes people wind up at jerrygold.com, but I was very surprised to see who my counterpart in the Netherlands is.  I don't read Dutch, so I don't know exactly what he does but his logo sure beats mine!  I wonder if his fans ever get to my site by mistake and wonder why he's talking about entrepreneurship and speech recognition?

April 27, 2005 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 13, 2005

VisiCalc creator comments on speech recognition

Brad Feld sent me a link to a post by Bob Frankston, the co-creator of VisiCalc, about his experiences with IVR and speech recognition.  I had already discovered Dan Bricklin's blog, the other co-creator of VisiCalc, but to see one of my software hero's commenting on my industry's technology was really cool.  To find out that I knew someone who knew them was even better. VisiCalc, followed closely by Flight Simulator and BASIC, opened my eyes to the potential of small computers.  I completely changed the path I was on when I discovered software.

In Bob's post (can I call him Bob, or should it be Mr. Frankston?), he talks about how speech recognition systems are better than touch-tone applications and then goes on to speculate how future applications could be even more useful if they adapted to the user and even taught them how to be a better user in the future.  (Read the post, he says it better than I can summarize)

He's right, and it is fun to think about how computers could get better about understanding what we want.  We've actually got a lot of experience with this, but unfortunately it is all happening slower than I'd like to see.  I was talking about this with a Human Factors Expert here at Gold Systems - that's not her title, I just like how it sounds - and she sent me the following comments on the subject.

Here are Paula's comments:

What he seems to be complaining about is that the system does not adapt to what he wants to do. He's arguing that people can and do "learn paths" .

One method for providing "paths" is by setting up shortcuts.  The experienced caller can complete tasks in fewer steps by linking commands together.  In fact, the shortcuts we built into the (Large Insurance Company in the Midwest) application are used relatively infrequently.

Another method, which is what I think he has in mind, is to tailor the interaction for each use once he/she has been identified.  So,  once he  logs into the system, the menus are organized according to his usage pattern.  This is certainly doable but very expensive to code and test. Most of our customers do not see the value (ROI) for undertaking such a  complicated design because, in reality, he will not spend more money with United Airlines if his IVR interaction was better.  (Is that true?  I'm not convinced.  - Terry)

His 4th paragraph is really pointing at the issue that I harp-on which is most of the designs I strive for are ones that GET OUT OF THE CALLERS WAY.  He says this a little differently by saying that he doesn't want it to be friendlier or salesy.  He just wants to make his reservation and get off the phone.  The IVR shouldn't be memorable or flashy- it's a tool and only a tool. You respect it as such.

With respect to the  6th paragraph,  he's really talking about getting the design right.  He's pointing out that his ISV (software developer) failed to understand that there is information people need that they are not providing (800 number).  I hit this frustration a lot-  many times we let customers tell us what they want and we fix-bid contracts to include ONLY these features. When we have time built into schedules to work with the customer to define the application, we can help identify the information that callers are seeking and ensure a better application.

My thoughts-

April 13, 2005 in Speech Recognition | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

Cell phone evolution

I subscribe to an email newsletter from the CTIA (the wireless association) and they had this blurb about the early cell phones.

Motorola's Brick Phone Lead the Market
In 1984, Motorola lead the way with its Motorola DynaTAC 8000X "Brick Phone", which weighed 2 pounds, offered only one half hour of talktime and sold for $3,995. Developed by Rudy Krolopp, later dubbed the father of the wireless phone by Motorola's Chief Executive Officer, the phone was the first of its kind. The design took nearly 10 years and a total of $100 million in development costs before its official unveiling.
(Source: Associated Press)

I remember the first time I saw a person using a cell phone in public and it was also the first time I saw someone using a cell phone at a restaurant.  It was one of the brick phones so it looked like they were talking on a walkie-talkie from World War II.  I remember thinking "how important can it be that they take that call?"  When I got closer I realized it was Colorado's Governor Roy Romer.

Also in today's newsletter from the CTIA they talked about whether or not cell phones would become big competitors to the iPod.  They also quote Jim Wicks, Motorola's chief wireless phone designer who said that in the past 10 years, wireless devices have changed from communications tools to consumer electronics devices and in some cases to an object of self expression.

I suppose that's true, but I still just want to be able to get through my call without having to say, "Can you hear me now?" or "I can't hear you, I'll call you back."  My wife just wants me to remember to lock my keypad so that I'll quit making random speed-dial calls to her accidentally.

April 11, 2005 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 06, 2005

AEA Presentation about funding growth

Chris Scoggins of Sequel Venture Partners invited me to be part of a panel discussion on "funding growth" at our local AeA Chapter.  AeA was founded in 1943 by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including Hewlett and Packard (the people, not the company) and it now serves companies in the high-tech industry internationally.  I felt that there were many people who had more experience than I did in the audience who could have taken my seat on the panel, but it was fun in any case.  I don't know if Chris realized that when he came up with the VC and the Banker to join me on the panel that he picked MY VC and MY Banker.  That made it all the more fun.

Chris Wand of Mobius Ventures represented the VC point of view.  Until recently Chris was an observer on my board. (Actually he did a ton of work - the title didn't fit the job, and he's contributed a lot to Gold Systems over the years.)  Frank Amoroso from Silicon Valley Bank represented the banker's point of view.

Taking money from a VC is a little like signing up for a "No interest, no payments" deal with a big balloon payment at the end, except the credit check is much tougher (usually) and it isn't always clear when the note will come due.  In fact the due date can change based on how your company is performing.  When I took VC money I felt like I knew what I was getting into, in fact I still have the date and time written on my whiteboard wall when my team and I decided to go for it.  (2/14/01 2:48PM)  I said then that taking VC money is like lighting a fuse, and time will tell whether it is a fuse to a rocket to the moon or a bomb.  I don't mean for this to sound at all negative.  My experience (so far) has been very, very positive, but I think that entrepreneurs should be very clear about why they are taking outside investments and they should understand what is going to be expected of them and their company.

Chris reminded people that ultimately bringing in a VC investment is about money.  If you are lucky (he says) you will also get access to contacts, a discipline will be instilled and you get to benefit from the VC's "pattern recognition" ability.  I've benefited from all three.  I've met people I couldn't have met on my own, my planning and reporting is better than it ever would have been without someone looking over my shoulder, and the "pattern recognition" has saved me from more pain than I can imagine.  Chris, who's a fairly young VC, has seen more stuff go wrong and right in companies than I'll ever see in my lifetime.  Just knowing that there could be a problem is a great help.  Having a VC who can point out problems in a constructive way is invaluable.

Frank talked about how banking is different for VC backed companies, and how SVB is positioned to do things that other banks might not be able to do.  When we switched to SVB soon after we were funded, I failed to do something that I had done well with our previous bank.  When we worked with Bob Sinton at Bank of Boulder, now First National Bank of Colorado, I did my best to educate Bob on my business.  In the early days I went so far as to give him catalogs of companies that bought telecommunications equipment just so he would feel good that our equipment (which secured our loan) was valuable.  I think we are past that now, but I should have spent more time educating Frank on our business, why our customers always pay us and why we were a good bet.  It was a case of delegating too much, and I've done my best to take this on personally more recently.

Frank made the point that "debt funds assets, not expenses."  In other words, a bank can loan you money to buy things that generate cash, but they aren't there to pay your bills for you.  Assets that a bank can fund include equipment, but they can also fund accounts receivables and provide cash for acquisitions in some cases.

I'm still indebted (figuratively, not literally) to Bob at First National Bank of Boulder.  He loaned us money to buy AT&T equipment, to do work for AT&T, when AT&T wouldn't even lease the equipment to us.  Frank at SVB has done a great job of working with us now that we are no longer a boot-strapped company.  I'd recommend either without hesitation.

Too many entrepreneurs in the past have declared victory when they successfully raised VC money.  In my mind, it is just another way to fund the growth of a company and it is the beginning of a process, not the end.

April 6, 2005 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack