It's payoff time at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and the excitement is palpable. Since the 1960s, scientists here have been struggling--Henry Higgins-like--to teach computers to talk with humans. They've invented powerful programs that can recognize what people say with more than 95% accuracy. Impressively, last summer, IBM beat most of its competitors to market with a jazzy and affordable speech program called ViaVoice Gold. It transforms spoken sentences into text on a computer screen and lets users open Windows programs by voice command.
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