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How Do We Know Who You Are?

In a few short years, SpeechWorks International Inc. has become one of the leading provider of speech-recognized applications. Nowadays, companies as large as E*Trade and MapQuest.com. are turning to SpeechWorks to assist with sales, customer service and other business functions. And, soon, through the initiatives of strategic partner and shareholder America Online Inc. , SpeechWorks will be able to help Internet service providers enter a whole new field.

But don't be confused that voice recognition equates to verification. Many engineers and developers now concentrating intently on enabling us with these recognition capabilities aren't necessarily focused on serious security questions like verifying you are in fact who you say you are. In speech technology, one is not always associated with the other.

To address this problem, SpeechWorks this week rolled out SpeechSecure® -- verification technology supplied by T-NETIX Inc., a leading provider of fraud control software technologies. Through the SpeechSecure technology, verification can be added on to the flagship SpeechWorks™ 6 product that is popular at enterprises, telecommunications and speech portal companies where privacy and security is essential. Pricing is based on an incremental charge per port.

But are companies that look to the promise of speech recognition even interested in verification technology? Yes, indeed. One recent survey conducted by J. Markowitz Consultants found approximately 38 percent of the prospective customers reported they intend to use speaker verification with speech recognition.

"Technology like SpeechSecure makes it possible to add the power of biometric security to these systems without diminishing their fundamental convenience and caller-friendliness," said Judith Markowitz, president of the voice-based biometrics outfit.

Boston-based SpeechWorks , which specializes in recognition technology, boasts an even firmer foundation of technology. Its products incorporate patented technologies based on research originally conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company is headed by President Mike Phillips, who himself used to be a speech research scientist at MIT for seven years.

"With SpeechSecure, our customers can be confident that they are better serving the needs of their callers as well as opening up greater possibilities for the use of speech recognition," Steve Chambers, vice president of worldwide marketing at SpeechWorks.

The add-on uses a highly effective voice verification solution to confirm a caller's identity by creating and matching a voiceprint -- think of it as an audible finger print to positively ID users. Once a caller's voiceprint is established, the system can determine automatically and quickly that person's identity before providing access to sensitive information. Each time the caller uses the system, his or her voice is verified against the established voiceprint.

This provides a crucial added measure of security for e-commerce, financial, medical and other important sectors. And, users don't even have to log in a PIN number, long considered a hassle for great yet fleeting minds.

Sound perfect? Almost, but not quite, said Markowitz.

Markowitz said that while both speech recognition and verifcation are not perfect, the technology is usually 95 percent accurate or higher, a detail surely not lost on clients. She also said they have they have the same kinds of vulnerabilites. For example, external noises can often interfere with the way the devices perceive what and who is being said. If someone has a cold, this changes the voice pattern. Or, suppose a truck is flying b