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A Conversation With a Computer

Techstination feature for Friday, February 3, 2006

A conversation with a computer. Bloomberg Boot Camp, a report on today's technology. Dr. David Nahamoo is kind of like a Dr. Doolittle of the computer age. Instead of conversing with animals, however, Dr. Nahamoo is working on making communication with computers more natural. He manages Human Language Technologies at IBM's Thoms J. Watson Research Center. One of his goals…a handheld computer that can translate and speak multiple languages. He says it's not that far off…

"I'm not going to tell you that today I can have a general conversation with somebody else in China…I speak in English, he speaks in Chinese…and we talk about anything. However, if I am a tourist and I'm going to China and I have problems …like I need medical help…like I need directions to a specific place…there are applications that we are developing that actually allows for tourism type of applications to help."

And farther out…speech recognition systems that can respond with what you might call simulated emotion…

"What sort of news is this? Is this exciting news, happy news, sad news…and be able to do that modulation automatically." Do you envision a time when people will find it difficult to distinguish whether or not they're talking to a machine or another human being? "That's for sure our goal."

IBM's Dr. David Nahamoo. Bloomberg Boot Camp, I'm Fred Fishkin.