If you've ever had the urge to yell at your television, take note: Your TV may now listen. Also, your car stereo, cellular phone, beeper, and personal computer could hang on your words.
Machines that respond to the voice have been around since the late 1960s. But they were the province of business and government. Thanks to advances in software and miniaturization, though, voice-recognition is finally showing up in home electronics.
Late last year, Voice Powered Technology introduced a $168 remote control that can program a VCR, operate a cable box, and adjust TV volume. Instead of fiddling with dials to record Seinfeld on Channel 4, you just say, "Four, Thursday, 9:30 p.m., 10:00 p.m." You need only say "Zap it!" to fast-forward past commercials on a taped show.
THAT REMINDS ME. This fall, the company is bringing out a personal datebook in the same price range. To jog your memory, tell the unit: "Lunch with Joe at Luigi's, Monday, noon." Then at the proper time, the unit reminds you.
Most other voice-recognition products retail for at least $1,000. Several car systems will dial phone numbers, change stations, or play compact disks on command. Audi Lexus, and Lincoln offer versions in 1993 models.
If you want to get a system without buying a new car, the Clarion CAL-1000, which retails for $1,900, integrates a voice-controlled radio and cellular phone and fits into a standard dashboard. This spring, Blaupunkt will bring out a car-phone-radio-CD system, the "Las Vegas."
Although the systems still have some kinks--such as a limited vocabulary--home computers are slowly beginning to speak our language. DragonDictate-30K, $4,995 from Dragon Systems, has a 30,000-word vocabulary that lets you enter text and control programs by voice. IBM, Verbex Voice Systems, and, for Apple computers, Articulate Systems, make cheaper, less sophisticated products.
Expect to start talking to more of your home appliances. Voice Powered Technology is negotiating to license voice controls for everything from microwave ovens to stereos. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other universities are working on voice-language translators, phone systems, and other projects. Move over Captain Kirk.