World’s fastest text messenger no match for voice recognition

Published 6:38 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ben Cook’s fingers flurried so fast you couldn’t see what he was doing until he had done it.

When the cell phone screens cleared, the 18-year-old world’s fastest text messenger was handed his first head-to-head defeat Tuesday: a voice recognition computer had bested his record time on a complicated 27-word message by 66 percent.

“I’m a little humbled to have been beaten like that,” Cook said with a smile after the race.

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The exhibition was sponsored by Nuance Communications Inc., a Burlington, Mass.-based company traded on the NASDAQ exchange that hopes to deploy its new software across several wireless carriers next year.

Nuance flew in Cook, a Provo, Utah, teen about to embark on a two-year Mormon mission, to test him against their software. Cook has gained celebrity for the text title and makes $1,000 a day doing public appearances for phone company Cricket.

Two Nuance employees also participated: one using a cell phone with a predictive text program that turns partial words into full ones and another with a full QWERTY keyboard on a Blackberry.

Neither came close to Cook, who used basic “3-key typing,” in which several letters share the same number key on a phone pad. To get the desired character it can take three or more clicks.

Each contestant took turns completing a text message in three rounds of increasing difficulty. All spelling, grammar and capitalization had to match the sample text precisely.

The first message, “I’m on my way. I’ll be there in 30 minutes,” took over a minute with the predictive software, 29 seconds with a Blackberry and 16 seconds for the record holder. The voice recognition software finished it in under 8 seconds.

The final message was a duplicate of one Cook won the world record for. It read “The razor toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygo centrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.”

Cook finished in 48 seconds, worse than his record 42 seconds. It took the Nuance program just 16 seconds before the 20-foot screens set up on either side of the contestants flashed red to signal the finish.

The software wouldn’t be ordinarily programmed to handle those Latin words, said Michael Thompson, Nuance general manager and vice president of search and communications, but it does come ready to understand about 500,000 others in English.

Thompson couldn’t say how much the service would cost consumers because it will likely vary by carrier. He said it’ll be available in some new telephones, but existing phones can download software for use as well.

Nuance envisions it as a tool for drivers and others on the go who want to send text messages, instead of calling or leaving a voicemail, but don’t have the time to sit and type them out.