For those of you who follow my writings on various topics, you are aware of my long-standing interest in speech recognition which dates back to its origins. And, while Siri, Google Speak and all of the word spotting that is going on in the contact center solutions arena are interesting, it is always fascinating to look out over the horizon. In this regard, the announcement that Sunnyvale, CA start-up Fluential, completed a $2 million equity investment round, bringing it’s total funding (to date) to $8 million, is something to keep an eye on.
Recognizing the need to go beyond speech recognition
Philanthropist, entrepreneur and medical researcher Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, Chairman and CEO of NantWorks, led the funding. Shiong’s $8 million infusion is the force enabling Fluential to pursue the next generation voice-based user interfaces, what Fluential calls “context-savvy,” leveraging the company’s proprietary and patented set of technologies. These include: speech recognition, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and probabilistic inference.
The capital infusion will be used to expand development of speech optimization and deep language understanding tools for mobile devices, wearables and consumer ”personal assistant” applications. Of note is that Fluential will release the first consumer application of its intelligent voice technology for the digital health, wellness and weight management space in Spring 2014.
“’Natural Language Understanding’ has developed in sophistication and accuracy over the years – but similar technologies still require so much training that voice hasn’t effectively penetrated the consumer mobile device market,” said Farzad Ehsani, Founder and CEO of Fluential. “With this investment, Fluential has been allowed to dramatically improve the voice assistance experience – particularly in the Quantified Self space – with technology that automatically understands context, content and even nuanced speech patterns and dialects so well that voice becomes an instantly rewarding and useful function for consumers.”
This is a fast ramp from conception to product realization. Fluential, got initial funding in 2011, holds six patents, with nine pending. Areas covered in the patents are: conversational dialog, targeted speech recognition, personalization, multi-topic conversation and inference engines to deliver a highly optimized voice UI for mobile devices. The reason for putting this company on the watch list is that its multimodal architecture also combines speech technology with touch and text into a single interface. This will enable application developers and users a context rich interactive search and retrieval experience.
Ehsani believes that Siri while entertaining has not been compelling in terms of the way people prefer to interact with their devices. Fluential is pushing the envelope to drive better adoption of voice as the user interface. Ehsanie explained that, “When voice technology learns and adapts to a user’s natural speaking habits and begins to interpret even the most ambiguous commands and inquiries successfully, then we believe it will catch on in the consumer device market.”
Prime investor Dr. Soon-Shiong clearly enjoys the challenge of transforming the market. He commented that, “The market potential for voice is significant, with smart watches, Nike+ FuelBands, Google Glass, smart TVs – even cars, appliances and toys – all primed to exploit ‘voice assistant’ technologies…Fluential accurately interprets even the most ambiguous language, allowing users and application developers to effectively translate natural, nuanced speech into useful, rich data information.”
“Imagine a language interface so in tune with your voice that it would allow a device to effortlessly process – without the need for training, touch or type – voice-activated television navigation, the cataloging of a meal for a weight management app, or even search while shopping,” Soon-Shiong added. “To be able to tell your device, ’pull up the shopping list for my favorite low calorie chicken recipes‘ and receive the correct results would take the capabilities of any device to new heights.”
It has been almost a given in science fiction movies for decades to portray the future as one where based on voice input a computer will respond with “Your wish is my command.” It does appear that the future is coming at us fast. Just how fast and how well we will be able to evaluate when Fluential’s first efforts hit the market.
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