A consortium has agreed on a standard for VoiceXML, potentially bringing voice-activated web browsing closer to reality.
The VoiceXML Forum, which includes AT&T, IBM, Lucent and Motorola, said it has now completed version 1.0 of the VoiceXML specification, which is based on the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) XML.
VoiceXML provides an application programming interface for speech and telephony systems, which is aimed at application developers, service providers and equipment manufacturers.
An AT&T spokesman said the forum hopes to present its specification to the W3C for formal ratification within the next month or two, but was unable to say how long ratification might take. "We hope to work with them to move it along as quickly as possible," he said.
But he added: "With the speed that the internet is moving and seeing things like PalmPilots hooked to the internet, I would predict that in the next year or two you'll see more devices that are capable of connecting to the internet and would expect that, in that same time frame, you might see voice interfaces to them."
Three developers at AT&T Labs began work on the language in 1996, but when AT&T spun off Lucent Technologies, the three went their separate ways. One remained at AT&T Labs, one went to Lucent's Bell Labs and the other to Motorola.
However, when Lucent, AT&T, IBM and Motorola saw that the research was being continued in parallel, they wanted to ensure product compatibility, and as a result formed the VoiceXML Forum last year to complete the interface.
According to the forum, which now has 79 members, standardisation of VoiceXML will simplify the creation of web-based, personalised interactive voice response services and of new voice-enabled devices and appliances.
It will also enable customers to access integrated call centre databases, company intranets and online information and services using their own voice over the phone.
William Meisel, president of TMA Associates, said: "The telephone network has long had the potential to grow in information services and automated commerce like the internet, but the difficulty of integrating them with quality voice services has prevented it from doing so."
"VoiceXML is a key component in letting telephone speech recognition and the 'voice web' grow in internet time."
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