Web surfers may be able to talk to their computers one day using a browser announced Tuesday by Opera Software.
The new browser incorporates IBM’s ViaVoice technology, enabling the computer to ask what the user wants and “listen” to the request.
“Hi. I am your browser. What can I do for you?” asked a laptop with the demonstration versions of the browser.
The message can be personalized, such as greeting users by name. The computer learns to recognize users’ voices, accents and inflections by having them read a list of words into a microphone.
Opera declined to give a launch date.
“Voice is the most natural and effective way we communicate,” said Christen Krogh, head of Opera’s software development. “In the years to come, it will greatly facilitate how we interact with technology.”
Opera is the third-largest browser on the Web. Although tiny compared to Internet Explorer and Netscape, it has been gaining ground as the browser of choice for handheld devices because it is fast and needs little memory.
The demonstration version, so far only in English, is still far from normal casual conversation.
After listening to the computer’s question, users have to wait for a tiny beep before stating their request.
But the computer displayed an ability to pick out key words in one demonstration. Tell the computer “get pizza” and a window popped up with a pizza order form, as the machine asked to take the order.
“I would like a medium pizza with extra cheese, mushrooms and salami,” a tester told the machine.
The machine checked off the appropriate boxes on the form, but interpreted “a pizza” as “eight pizzas.” Then it asked for confirmation and corrected the number when told the order was for one.
It corresponds to simple commands. For example, say “Get AP” and the browser brings up the Web page for The Associated Press.
“The new offering will allow us to interact with the content on the Web in a more natural way, first on PCs and in the near future on devices such as cell phones and PDAs,” or personal digital assistants, said IBM’s director of embedded speech, Igor Jablokov.
Krogh said the voice technology could open up the Internet to users who had been physically unable to use a keyboard.
Opera plans to first launch an English version of the voice browser for computers running the Windows operating system. Versions for other systems, including handhelds, will follow.