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Hardcover | $43.00 Short | £35.95 | 360 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 77 b&w illus., 6 tables | March 2012 | ISBN: 9780262016858
Paperback | $31.00 X | £25.95 | 360 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 77 b&w illus., 6 tables | March 2012 | ISBN: 9780262533294
eBook | $22.00 X | March 2012 | ISBN: 9780262302319

The Voice in the Machine

Building Computers That Understand Speech
Foreword by Lawrence Rabiner


Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey famously featured HAL, a computer with the ability to hold lengthy conversations with his fellow space travelers. More than forty years later, we have advanced computer technology that Kubrick never imagined, but we do not have computers that talk and understand speech as HAL did. Is it a failure of our technology that we have not gotten much further than an automated voice that tells us to “say or press 1”? Or is there something fundamental in human language and speech that we do not yet understand deeply enough to be able to replicate in a computer? In The Voice in the Machine, Roberto Pieraccini examines six decades of work in science and technology to develop computers that can interact with humans using speech and the industry that has arisen around the quest for these technologies. He shows that although the computers today that understand speech may not have HAL’s capacity for conversation, they have capabilities that make them usable in many applications today and are on a fast track of improvement and innovation.

Pieraccini describes the evolution of speech recognition and speech understanding processes from waveform methods to artificial intelligence approaches to statistical learning and modeling of human speech based on a rigorous mathematical model—specifically, Hidden Markov Models (HMM). He details the development of dialog systems, the ability to produce speech, and the process of bringing talking machines to the market. Finally, he asks a question that only the future can answer: will we end up with HAL-like computers or something completely unexpected?

About the Author

Roberto Pieraccini, Director of ICSI, the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California, has been active for more than thirty years in speech research and technology.


“This is a fascinating tour of the development of modern speech technologies and applications…A wonderful historical account of the growth of speech technology.”—Choice


“With the explosive growth in speech applications on Android, iPhone and other devices, The Voice in the Machine is a timely read. It relates the 50+ year quest to develop voice recognition and synthesis, explains how the technologies work, and contains enough anecdotes to make it fun.”
Alfred Z. Spector, Vice President of Research, Google, Inc.
“There are many books on speech technology, but this is the first to explain the technology against a backdrop of the broader forces that have shaped the field. This will become a must-read text for those interested in what speech technology is and how it has developed.”
Robert Dale, Centre for Language Technology, Macquarie University
“Roberto Pieraccini’s fascinating book takes us on a tour of human speech, modern techniques for speech understanding and generation, and the problems of deploying it in real industrial applications. By using examples, he conveys the essence of modern statistical speech processing without resorting to mathematics. This book is both entertaining and educational, and highly recommended.”
Steve Young, Professor of Information Engineering, University of Cambridge