AT&T Labs announced its first ever product on Tuesday and, perhaps not surprisingly for a company best known for telephony, it has entered the text-to-speech market.
AT&T has already diversified into cable television and internet access, away from its origins as the telephony monopoly that was broken up by the US Department of Justice.
The company believes that its new Natural Voices software will open up a huge new revenue stream. The software is aimed at companies which have call centre operations, as well as at application service providers with voice portals and resellers offering speech services.
AT&T claims that Natural Voices is "the most human sounding computer speech system in the world". However, it will face plenty of competition in the voice applications market which is expected to be worth $41bn by 2005, according to the Kelsey Group.
Customers are likely to be car manufacturers, and developers of mobile phones, personal digital assistants and other electronic devices aiming to integrate voice technology into their products.
Natural Voices includes two systems: a text-to-speech engine and a library consisting, so far, of three voices.
"This isn't going to replace people any time soon, and it's not meant to. But it's interesting that the technology is getting so close. It's getting hard to tell the real from the automated," said an AT&T spokesperson.
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