FIVE TRAILBLAZERS OF SPEECH
(Copyright 1998 McGraw-Hill, Inc.)
RONALD CROEN Consultant Ronald A. Croen was called in to determine if the work at SRI
International's Speech Technology & Research Lab, which was founded in 1983, had at last
reached the point where it could be turned loose. Not only did Croen give a thumbs-up, but
he begged to lead the campaign. SRI spun off Nuance Communications in 1994. CEO Croen has
since raised $14 million and sold a dozen pioneering systems to the likes of American Express,
British Airways, and Sears. If that continues, Nuance should bob out of the red late this year.
JIM AND JANET BAKER Twenty years ago, Jim and Janet Baker set out to devise a voice-recognition
system that could transcribe words as quickly as a person could normally say them. In 1997,
the husband-and-wife team finally hit their mark. Dragon Systems, founded by the Bakers, has
vaulted into the spotlight with NaturallySpeaking, the first dictation software that can handle
continuous speech. For an encore, the Bakers hope to develop speech recognition for a wide
variety of software applications, from TVs to telephones.
VICTOR ZUE For years, Victor Zue astonished his fellow researchers in speech recognition with
his ability to read the words people were saying in spectrographs, the digital representation of
a voiceprint. Zue's lab at MIT remains a hotbed of speech work and has spawned several companies,
notably Applied Language Technologies, where Zue once served as an adviser. An authority in
natural-language processing, Zue built a system that can tell phone callers the weather in 500
cities around the world--a wonder of responsiveness to spoken questions.
RAYMOND KURZWEIL Ray Kurzweil got his start by inventing a machine-reader for blind people,
which he sold to Xerox in 1980. Kurzweil's next company, Kurzweil Applied Intelligent Systems,
developed one of the first voice-recognition engines.
But the company was rocked by an accounting fraud in 1994. No charges were brought against
Kurzweil, who denied any knowledge of wrongdoing. Today, he runs Kurzweil Educational Systems
Inc., which is developing a reading machine for people with dyslexia.
DAVID NAHAMOO Since 1993, David Nahamoo has been running one of the world's largest research
efforts in speech technology: a 60-person team at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory.
The 44-year-old electrical engineer earned his degree at Purdue University for work in medical
imaging systems. Speech pulled him away "because I was intrigued with the idea of doing impossible
things," he says. The first was a line of PC dictation programs, culminating in the popular ViaVoice
product. Now, Nahamoo is targeting applications for telephones, cars, and handheld devices.