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Computers Make Strides in Recognizing Speech

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Eric Horvitzs receptionist at Microsoft is a computer

Stuart Isett for The New York Times

"Hi, thanks for coming," the medical assistant says, greeting a mother with her 5-year-old son. "Are you here for your child or yourself?"

The boy, the mother replies. He has diarrhea.

"Oh no, sorry to hear that," she says, looking down at the boy.

The assistant asks the mother about other symptoms, including fever ("slight") and abdominal pain ("He hasn’t been complaining").

She turns again to the boy. "Has your tummy been hurting?" Yes, he replies.

After a few more questions, the assistant declares herself "not that concerned at this point." She schedules an appointment with a doctor in a couple of days. The mother leads her son from the room, holding his hand. But he keeps looking back at the assistant, fascinated, as if reluctant to leave.

Maybe that is because the assistant is the disembodied likeness of a woman’s face on a computer screen--a no-frills avatar...

From The New York Times
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