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Computer Speech Recognition: Dialog, Verbex, Dragon

Cousin Jon e-mailed me a New York Times article on the latest version of desktop speech recognition using Dragon technology. We have a sort of familial interest in speech recognition, since both of us worked for Dialog Systems in the 1970s.

By the time I had left, Dialog had developed speech recognition systems that worked over phone lines and recognized 'isolated' words. In other words, the systems did tolerably well as - long - as - you - paused - between - each - word. There was also an R&D demo system (paid for via Rome Air Development Center) that listened to continuous speech and identified specific words (perfect for monitoring phone conversations for words like "terrorism" or, back then, "Russian spy")

Dialog's early technology was based on work by Steve Moshier, the quintessential quiet inventor. I imagine that the Wright brothers had a similar, reserved air about them. Steve once mentioned having been asked by Scientologists next door to build them an "E-meter." I don't know how this relates to the official history of E-meters; Hubbard took out a patent on an E-meter in 1966.

Dialog Systems had a PDP-11, a custom vector processor hand-build out of Schottky TTL, and four employees when I started, and had about 40 employees when I left a few years later. Dialog was initially funded by Exxon Enterprises - a '70s foray into venture capitalism by the oil giant, in anticipation of the need to get into a different industry due to the oil crisis of the time. Shortly after I left, Dialog was renamed "Verbex Voice Systems." Some time around then, Drs Janet and Jim Baker joined the company to augment Steve's R&D work.

In the early '80s one or both Bakers moved on to develop the Dragon desktop speech recognition system. By then both cousin Jon and I had moved on to BBN.

Verbex kept chugging along in the "industrial" speech recognition market. They were bought by Voxware in about 1999.

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I was a founder of Dialog along with Steve Moshier and Keith McCombs.  Your characterization of Steve is right on; Steve is the most brilliant person I've ever met (and I've been blessed to meet many).  Sad Steve isn't given the recognition he earned.  I'd be interested in anything you might enlighten me about you.  Sincerely, Jim

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