IBM's voice-recognition guru, Brian Garr, says scientific ambitions are white-water fast when it comes to what voice recognition will do next. IBM's Superhuman Speech project, for instance, aims to create computers that are better at understanding speech than humans are, says Garr. That's right, better than we are. "We believe we will be there by 2011," he says.

"We're still in the early days of speech recognition, comparable to where the Internet was 10 years ago," adds Garr. But, watch out, he says, because just as the Internet became integral to our lives, so will speech rec, probably a lot faster than we expect. "We're just now figuring out so many new uses."

The examples keep multiplying. A case in point, coming probably within the next year to your cell phone: "You'll be able to dictate SMS messages into your wireless," predicts Nuance's Mahoney, whose company is far along in its development of that very tool.

Picture zapping this message to a coworker: "SMS iz kewl 2 uz, bt a pain 2 typ, w aL d multi-tapping. It wud b so gr8 jst 2 spk it!" How long would it have taken you to tap that into a phone? And that's assuming you know the SMS shorthand that allows quicker input. But it would be many times faster just to dictate your message and let the smart phone do the typing for you.

"Big leaps are coming in the near future," promises Mahoney. The technology, finally, is here - computers hear and understand us. Now it comes down to creating tools we want to use - and that, says Mahoney, is exactly what's going on. Can you hear it happening?
Operators Are Standing By