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Cloud Computing Promises Hi-Tech Talk in 2011

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Women may not always be avid adopters of new technology, but Amy Neustein says cloud computing is something to know about. The emerging technology's voice-recognition applications may soon save lives along with everyday aggravation.



(WOMENSENEWS)--Women may still be a small fraction of early adopters of new technology but right now we have a hot topic in Internet technology--cloud computing--that is right up our alley.

Its core philosophy is using the Internet to share costly resources such as software and data. How many women over how many eons have stretched a tight budget by sharing?

So, let's take a good look at what's going on.

Computers connected through a network of remote servers form the so-called cloud. They provide individual computers with massive amounts of new capacity--in terms of data storage and software--that is powering a transformation in the area of voice-recognition and voice-activation.

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A sign of this came in December, when technical product managers at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters announced a cloud-based improvement to one of its smart-phone applications that lets a user search the Web with a voice command.

The new application will further "personalize" the voice-searching function. It will listen to your voice and learning how you -- as a unique individual -- speak. It will adapt to your dialect, vocal stress patterns, pitch and inflection.

To do this, programmers tap into the cloud to create an individual account for each speaker that chooses personalized recognition -- and begins to associate the smartphone user's unique voice features with those in this special account.

All of this will allow the phone to transmit commands and messages that are more recognizable to speech-activated software.

Less Vexation

The goal is to reduce those vexing errors that arise when we ask voice-activated equipment to perform such chores as giving us driving directions, taking a food-delivery order, dialing a phone number, converting voicemail to text, or even searching the Web for the latest developments in a breaking news story.

This kind of computer "intelligence" wouldn't be possible if each phone had to depend on the limited memory found on such mobile devices. It would overburden the server.

But when the phone taps a network of servers through cloud technology, the boundaries open up considerably.

Cloud technology can improve our interactions with automated call centers, says Daniel O'Sullivan, CEO and founder of New York-based Interactive Digital, a software company that provides adaptive technologies for improving voice user-interface design.

His company is striving to make automated call centers assist callers better by tracking a caller's voice patterns in responding to phone-tree questions or "prompts." Those patterns and vocal features can cue the machine to provide more instructions, fewer instructions, or a slower or faster pace.

"We don't keep logs of calls, nor do we depend on caller profiling or call-in history either," says O'Sullivan.

Instead, the cloud processes attributes of the caller's voice and speech during the call to adapt immediately, even if, for instance, a caller is distracted by outside noise or is tired at that moment.

O'Sullivan says this kind of cloud computing can help businesses by preventing customer burnout. "Frustrated callers can be preemptively transferred to live agents before they give up and hang up," he says. And the cloud makes this possible without expensive customized programming at a company's local server.

Life-Saving Potential

Cloud computing's voice-sensitive applications also have life-saving potential.

In Gujarat, India, a young scientist at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, a 7-year-old old state university, has investigated using them in the treatment of newborns suffering from pulmonary dysfunction or other life-threatening conditions. The process works with a small digital recorder placed within 5-10 centimeters of the infant.

"So much can be learned about a newborn's state of health from the infant's cry alone," says Dr. Hemant Patil. "Due to recent advances in cloud computing technology, healthcare professionals can rely on fully outsourced computer services rather than individual servers, software packages, data-center space or network equipment. In this cloud computing environment we can transmit an infant's cries through a mobile device . . . through a Web interface to servers that are connected to each other."

This means that danger signs in a sick baby's cry will not be missed, even if the infant is in a rural hospital without access to high level monitoring performed at teaching hospitals. A centralized computer system can provide that sophisticated monitoring instead.

This kind of technology could make the brand new year ahead a time of enormous change and discovery. A year from now, an article about the applications of cloud computing will probably have a lot more to say.

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Amy Neustein is editor in chief of the International Journal of Speech Technology; editor of Advances in Speech Recognition: Mobile Environments, Call Centers and Clinics (Springer Verlag, 2010).

 
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I believe this article has many strong arguments even though it focus much more on the possibilities of voice recognition than on cloud computing which is a much wider concept.

The main feature cloud computing has made available and has really helped me, even if it has not been lifesaving, is the possibility to have your whole family always updated through a cloud-based calendar.
You just put in all your childrens sports activities, homeworks and tests and copy your partner and the child affected by that specific event. All smartphones and computers will then immediately have the same information. There will be no more "I forgot" or "Nobody told me" because everything is in their calendars.
As a working mum with three very active children the logistics planning took up to an hour a day earlier using telephone and SMS to coordinate the children, my husband and all the other parents whose children play in the same teams and live nearby. The time spent on this planning is less than half now when the whole family is using the cloud-based calendars.
I know this is a bit of a luxury problem and I am fortunate to be able to let my children play several fairly expensive sports even though I beleive it is an investment in the long run.
However, I know there is a lot of working mum's out there who just like me can not afford a housekeeper or nanny to take care of their childrens after school activities and maybe this is one way of making their lives a little bit easier.
Personally I use an MS-office based calendar function from servage.com which I am very satisfied with, but there might be other solutions out there as well.

Of course integrity, security and cost is very important, but for most of us I believe cloud computing can be a great help in our daily lives.

Cloud computing sounds like it has some positive aspects, but I suspect that it is another way of getting us to repeatedly pay for something we previously only bought once. For example, if we buy a piece of software, it is ours to use indefinitely and with the CD it can be installed on multiple computers and/or multiple times if, for example, we have a computer crash. My understanding of cloud computing is that, at least in part, we will no longer own software but will instead have something like an annual subscription for which we must pay repeatedly. Business has already monetized TV and is trying to do the same to radio and now, it appears, computers. So, it may have benefits, but what will the costs be and will they make the benefits inaccessible to those who cannot pay?

If you have a privacy problem or an intellectual property problem, be very wary of the cloud, and especially of voice recognition inside the cloud. Voice recognition can be, and has been, used to locate people who don't want or need to be located. If you are running from an abusive relationship, or are a new writer without an agent, purchase your own voice recognition software and writing software. Yes, it's expensive, but still cheaper than hospital or mortuary bills.

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