Industry panel proposes voice standard for Web

A coalition of leading technology companies has announced plans for a new voice technology standard for the Internet.

A coalition of leading technology companies has announced plans for a new voice technology standard for the Internet.

An industry panel of executives from companies such as Cisco, Intel and Microsoft unveiled a proposed standard for developing voice-activated Web applications, called Speech Application Language Tags (SALT).

The technology is intended to make Web services accessible through a telephone or any computing device that can send voice. With the technology, these companies say voice will replace the functions of a keyboard, telephone dialpad or handheld stylus.

"Voice is the only modality that spans through these devices," said Kai-Fu Lee, vice president of Microsoft's natural interactive services group.

SALT will enable companies to build voice commands into their sites, similar to other services already on the market from BeVocal and AOL Time Warner.

Microsoft pledged to incorporate SALT into Visual Studio.Net as the technology evolves so developers can build voice-activated applications with the development software suite. The technology will also be supported in Internet Explorer and will be part of Microsoft's emerging .Net initiative

"Speech is, in the future, really the ideal interface for the Web and .Net," Lee said.

SALT will be platform-independent of the operating system and free for use by Web developers, the panel said.

Although the idea has gained wide industry support, it may slow down the development of another standards group working on a similar technology, called VoiceXML, said John Shea, director of product marketing at Nuance Communications, a voice recognition company working with Voice XML. Those working on the SALT project say it is expected to be a lightweight alternative to VoiceXML.

The standard is based on HTML, XML, and other Web development standards. It will be one of many technologies designed make it easier to deliver information to users at any time, on any computing device.

In addition to creating a standard method for sending and receiving voice messages, SALT will allow hardware and software makers to create a standard user interface for hosting new voice services on computing devices. The SALT Forum will work with companies to build a speech interface onto a Web site so it can be accessed by telephone or mobile device.

The initial version of the specification will be available in the first quarter of 2002 and will be submitted to a standards body for review by the middle of the year.

Further information
SALT Forum: http://www.saltforum.org/

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