New Warp version to be voice-enabled

In September 1966, Gene Roddenberry and NBC introduced a novel concept to the American TV audience: A "space opera" called "Star Trek" debuted, and with it came a vision of our technological future.

One concept "Star Trek" introduced was the idea of interacting with the computer by voice.

In 1966, critics were quick to claim that the technology depicted in "Star Trek" was pure science fiction. In 1996, however, IBM Corp. will introduce a new version of OS/2 Warp that promises to make voice technology a scientific fact.

Although current PC hardware bears little resemblance to its original design (circa 1981), very little has changed with the way in which we work with PC technology. Operating system software such as CP/M, and later MS-DOS, introduced the command-line interface that used the keyboard for input. In 1984, Apple Computer Inc. introduced the Macintosh, which premiered with a graphical user interface.

The Macintosh became the first commercial PC to use a mouse as a means of navigating through the operating system. Microsoft Corp. later introduced the graphical interface for Intel Corp.-based PCs when it introduced Microsoft Windows, yet the human interface remained primarily through the keyboard and secondarily through the mouse.

In the second half of 1996, IBM hopes to revolutionize our interaction with computer technology by introducing the first operating system to be fully voice-enabled. IBM's new release of OS/2 Warp (code-named Merlin) takes advantage of the fact that the average PC hardware purchased today includes Intel Pentium or Pentium-like processors, which feature high-speed floating-point processors that rarely, if ever, are used by typical PC applications.

IBM has taken the novel approach of using a successful stand-alone voice-recognition system (IBM's Voice-Type Dictation) that previously required a separate digital signal processor and, by tapping the potential of the floating-point processor, integrating the voice-recognition engine into the operating system core. Thus, users of Pentium-level PCs will be able to easily navigate through OS/2 using only their spoken commands.

The implications of the voice-enabled operating system and applications are enormous: From high-speed order-entry systems to systems designed to aid those with physical disabilities, the PC will reach a new standard for ease of use.

Those who scoff at the idea of talking to their computer obviously haven't spoken to either Apple or Microsoft. Each company has independently produced futuristic videos designed to showcase the potential of computer technology; the videos feature users interacting with desktop and palmtop computers through a combination of voice and touch-screen technology. Does this mean that you'll soon be having interactive, "heart-to-heart" talks with your PC? Of course not. But it may mean that the days of manually typing in every character for every document you create may soon be over.

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Rodgers is a computer specialist with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent any policy or position of the government. Comments or questions can be addressed to the OS2GURU on America Online or via the Internet at chrisr@linux.magnus1.com.

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