AT&T Solves Information Overload

Information is the pollution of the digital age — there’s so much, we don’t know what to do with it. Yet, we want more and more: the Internet exponentially grows with text, graphics, and videos; studios churn out show after show; empirical data sets grow so large servers can’t contain them. But we still want more. So how in the world are we going to dig through all this information? AT&T has a few ideas…

I recently spent a day in AT&T's labs (not to be confused with the company's R&D divisions). This is where technology is being invented for the future -- things that might not reach consumers for years, if ever. Sometimes the inventions change the look and feel of industries; sometimes they're buried deep, enabling other technologies.

AT&T has been dealing with information stockpiles for years. Remember MP3's? AT&T invented the technology (you should be on to AAC/MP4's by now). Data visualization? AT&T is on the forefront. Internet, phone, and cable network information? AT&T uses data compression techniques to store it that are twice as powerful as anything on the market.

Good for them, right? Well, they're also using those skills to come up with solutions for the public. How do we find what we want? We search. And that's where its effort is concentrated.

Take, for example, television. There's a kajillion shows, channels, starting times, reruns vs. new episodes, days of the week, genres, parental ratings, reviews, and on and on... That's not even to start on programming all this into a DVR. Most of us grab the remote and do one of three things: channel surf, go to the guide channel, or make our way to asinine search menus that have you scanning everything that begins with the letter "R."

AT&T's new remote control let's you use the best command system: your voice. One scientist demonstrated the technology for me. He pushed one button on the remote and said something to the effect of, "Reality shows on Thursday after 8pm that aren't reruns." Boom! Almost instantly a list appeared on the screen. Another press: "Record this," and the DVR was set. Check out a pic of the prototype remote below.

The company's also making Internet searching easier. A few scientists showed me some slick iPhone apps. One was a Yellow Pages application... he pressed a button and said something like "estheticians in Rochester, NY" and again, a list of options was presented. On a food ordering app he talked right into the phone: "I'd like a large pepperoni, breadsticks, and a two-liter of Dr. Pepper." The order was on the screen right away, itemized, editable, and with an automated total. If anyone were on the other end, he could have just hit "order" and never had to speak with a single soul.

These search capabilities are based on the voice recognition software the company has been working on for decades. (You can thank AT&T for automated customer service operators, too.) Say goodbye to complicated menu schemes and say hello to voice control... literally.

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