Table: Tongue-Tied

Call centers like this one could vanish if speech technology ever achieves its promise. But the tech providers, below, face many challenges:

SPEECHWORKS

Product: Speech-recognition and -synthesis engines for call centers; voice verification. Challenge: This MIT offshoot led the market in 2001 but will need to expand its developer base and keep up R&D spending to keep winning customers.

NUANCE

Product: Speech-recognition engine for call centers. Challenge: The offspring of SRI International, Nuance lost its market lead in 2001. R&D spending has fallen--a worry, since it needs to keep honing its technology.

SCANSOFT

Product: Speech recognition for dictation and voice synthesis for call centers. Challenge: A newcomer, ScanSoft acquired its speech business from bankrupt Lernout & Hauspie in December. It needs to strengthen channels and win key accounts.

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