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Coming Soon : PCs That Argue Back

The computer crashes and we respond angrily at the flickering screen. But we may soon risk being shouted at by the machine we have just cursed.

Scientists are building a voice-activated device that can interact with people in a “natural and intelligent way”. Artificial intelligence will help it become familiar with a user’s voice, with the ultimate goal of understanding a human and speaking and behaving like them.

It could improve voice-activated computers, develop web search engines for audio clips, and create voice-controlled devices for the home. The latter could help older people stay independent for longer.

Professor Steve Renals, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, said: “We are working to develop technologies that can recognise and generate natural-sounding speech. This could open the door to computer speech technology becoming commonplace throughout our lives at home, at work, and in our leisure time.”

It could also be able to follow the flow of a conversation and to gloss over changes in background noise. The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Professor Phil Woodland of Cambridge University’s engineering department said that the researchers’ group was particularly interested in improving the ability of the technology to learn about and adapt to particular users and contexts.

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