Nuance, the invisible

Posted by Frank De Graeve

Nuance Communications is the world’s largest producer of speech technology and software for digital document management. The company has succeeded in combining the legacy of the defunct Lernout & Hauspie with its own research to make huge advances in this domain. Its technology is found in PCs, smartphones and so-called wearable devices (such as Galaxy Gear products by Samsung), and also increasingly in cars and even TVs.

So it’s all very exciting, but there’s just one problem: in most cases, this software is … invisible. It’s often hidden deep within an operating system, or part of a package of technological gadgets, such as the SYNC module in Ford cars.

Journalists and bloggers often write about it without even knowing that the technology comes from Nuance – so the company doesn’t get a mention. This means that even though the technology is often very impressive, it’s not always talked about by manufacturers who include it in their products, because they don’t consider it a priority.

How did we fix this? First and foremost, we decided to give as many product demos ourselves as possible, following the motto: what the clients don’t do, we do. And with success; demos invariably provide real wow moments, and suddenly make all the possibilities much clearer.

There’s lots of story digging involved too, searching high and low for details of how the technology has come about and the new possibilities it offers. The technology itself is rarely very interesting for the average man on the street, but the way it can change our lives and how we work is fascinating.

Sometimes the best stories seem to just appear out of nowhere. In the film Her, director Spike Jonze paints a picture of the future in which we operate computers and smartphones with our voice, and where computer operating systems are so intelligent that they can pass off as people. Even though Nuance wasn’t consulted for this film, it comes incredibly close to the company’s vision. Various journalists have been very keen to talk to experts from Nuance to find out which gadgets in Her are science fiction, and what is actually already possible.

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