Science: Shoebox Is Listening

For all of their increasing versatility, machines lack a vital quality that even the lowliest mutt possesses: they cannot understand their master's voice. This situation may soon change. Last week International Business Machines Corp. demonstrated a small, innocent-looking gadget that may some day permit machines to follow spoken orders, and even eavesdrop on human conversations.

IBM's speech recognizer, called "Shoebox" because it is smaller than a shoe box, so far recognizes only 16 spoken words, including the ten digits and six arithmetical command words such as plus and minus. But this is no...

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