Also fueling this recent consumer embrace of voice recognition is what Mahoney delicately refers to as a "backlash against talking with nonnative speakers," which, put more plainly, means that many of us would rather talk to a computer than to someone at a call center in a developing country. "We are a self-serve society," adds Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Paul Kowal, coauthor of Enabling IVR Self-Service with Speech Recognition. "Voice-recognition­ systems are always friendly." They never tell us we are wrong, they are unfailingly cheerful, and, increasingly, they're indeed giving us what we want. What's not to like?

Voice recognition is also cheap - low costs are driving many deployments as companies look for ways to save money on human employees, who require salaries. But the real excitement swirling around this software is the growing recognition that voice is one data-input device most of us always have with us, particularly in an age of ubiquitous wireless phones. Companies are now learning to harness voice inputs so that we can do truly cool things more quickly and easily than ever.

"Using your voice to get the information you want is 10 times faster than ­using a mobile phone's keypad," says Dipanshu Sharma, CTO of San Diego-based V-­Enable, a pioneer in developing speech-based search tools. Of course, a conventional wireless phone can be used to search for, say, movie showtimes - but go ahead and type in "Snakes on a Plane" and your zip code. Wouldn't it be much faster just to ask your phone for this information? "With our service, that's what you do," says Sharma, who also says Verizon Wireless subscribers already can tap into this voice-powered service.