With Nuance’s Nina “When in Doubt, Just Ask Your Phone”

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Between Siri, OS X Mountain Lion’s global voice recognition and Google’s voice to text not stinking on Android any longer, the days of tapping out your messages are rapidly coming to an end. Yes, voice recognition is becoming commonplace, accurate and fast. And more and more people are finding that it’s a great way to create text. (Hell, even Elana is using voice recognition on her iPhone.) But there’s more going on here than simple voice recognition. Siri, for example, is intelligent voice recognition – voice recognition that actually does more than simply create text from the words you speak. And it’s not just voice recognition that lets you navigate through menus by voice – that’s existed for quite some time and is pretty rudimentary. No, we are now seeing real artificial intelligence built into voice to text systems. And that power and potential just went enterprise with Nuance’s announcement of Nina, the Virtual Assistant for Mobile Customer Service Apps. As they explain in the Press Release,

With Nina, companies can quickly add speech-based virtual assistant capabilities to their existing iOS and Android mobile apps, greatly enhancing the self-service experience for their customers. Nina combines Nuance speech recognition, Text-to-Speech (TTS), voice biometrics, and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) technology hosted in the cloud to deliver an interactive user experience that not only understands what is said, but also can identify who is saying it.

I had the opportunity to see Nina in action last week and was impressed. The system let’s enterprise companies take the power of Nuance’s natural voice recognition and fairly quickly and easily build it into an intelligent application that can be used by customers on the go. The fours key aspects of Nina are

Authenticate– Nina will let your voice become your password

Navigate- You can say “Find the nearest ATM”

Transact- You can use natural dialogue to make your transaction. For example,

You- “Pay my Comcast bill.”
Nina- “From which account do you want to pay?”
You- “From checking.”
Nina- “Do you want to pay the full amount.”
You- “Yes”
Nina- I paid the bill.
You- “How much is left in the account.”

(If you noticed, each answer built in the dialogue before it…”

Educate- This helps ensure customers know what they are actually able to do.

These four components will come together to power Enterprise apps that let you do more on the go and do it all by voice. When you see it in action is is rather impressive.

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None of this really comes as a surprise since this is the direction to which things have been moving for quite some time. But Nina is the culmination of many different areas of advancement in recent years. Voice recognition accuracy has become more commonplace. The ability to use natural speech with voice recognition technologies has made tremendous advances in the past few years. And, perhaps most importantly, people have become increasingly comfortable using their voice in place of a keyboard. Put those factors together and it’s a great time for this sort of product. So what exactly is Nina? Here’s how Nuance describes her.

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Nina Virtual Assistant Persona: Nina is a pre-made virtual assistant persona, which developers can leverage for their app, or use the available source code to quickly create a custom persona, including changing visual persona elements such as being awake, asleep, listening, processing, or answering a request. Nina also includes a range of existing Nuance text-to-speech voices, and Nuance can develop a custom TTS voice for an optional development fee.

Nina Virtual Assistant SDK: To enable the rapid integration of virtual assistant capabilities into mobile apps for Apple iOS and Android, the Nina Virtual Assistant SDK has three components:

Nina Core APIs: Binary APIs that provide access to the core cloud services, such as speech recognition, text to speech and NLU. This provides the most control and customization possible to the mobile app developer.

Nina Virtual Assistant APIs: Source APIs that provide mobile app developers with access to customize the persona, as well as providing control of all modes of input, including speech recognition, text to speech and touch dialogs.

Nina Reference Designs: Source code of Nina Virtual Assistant apps and functions, including the Nina Banking Assistant, deliver pre-designed templates and tasks for store location, bill pay, account information and over 200 other banking related queries. Developers will be able to leverage the reference designs to rapidly develop their own virtual assistant capabilities for travel, insurance, retail, government and more.

Nina Virtual Assistant Cloud: The power and intelligence of Nina, including Nuance’s industry-leading speech recognition, TTS, NLU, interactive dialog management and voice biometrics services, is delivered through Nuance’s hosted platform, Nuance On Demand.

You won’t see Nina in the App Store. No, Nina isn’t a consumer app on iOS or Android but is something Nuance will be making available to specific companies in specific industries. We will, I was told, likely see Nina first appear in financial and personal financial service industries but Nuance expects travel and telecommunications to also be big. I was also told to expect “at least one deployment before the end of the calendar year” and the Press Release noted that USAA is on board and has a trial set for this month with full deployment in early 2013.

In all, when you consider the SDK and the powerful voice biometrics Nina gives companies the power to replicate the function of a website on a mobile device. Yes, we are rapidly moving into a time when the key phrase will be- “When in doubt just ask your phone.”

Nina will be see shortly on iOS and Android. We’ll have more details as they are released.

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

2 Comments on "With Nuance’s Nina “When in Doubt, Just Ask Your Phone”"

  1. It is interesting reading this and seeing where Nina is NOT appearing: Blackberry and Windows Phone. As you mention, both Android and iOS have excellent facility at voice recognition and intelligent agents. This enables more and more technology to build upon it. Not seeing it on Blackberry isn’t really a surprise, since RIM is basically a dead cause at this point … but I would have assumed Microsoft and Nokia would have pushed harder for Nina for WP. Maybe for WP8 …

  2. Yup- that was the first thing I thought of. I’ll be putting my thoughts in more detail in a post shortly but this is some pretty damning wall-writing.

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