Now Hear This: Full Ahead!

The Kinokawa Mam, a 92,207-ton ore carrier, pulled out of Tokyo harbor last week on its maiden voyage to Australia. When Captain Yukio Imai wanted to change speed, he did not order a crew member to yank the traditional brass-handled lever. Instead, he spoke through a microphone to the ship's computerized engine control, which has a voice synthesizer and recognition device developed by Japan's Sodensha Electronics Ltd. The control device can comprehend eleven verbal commands, from "Full ahead" to "Full astern," given by the captain or two of his officers. To show that...

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