Brussels, Nov 2002
The European Commission has awarded funding of 3.47 million euro to an international consortium that aims to produce the most advanced and commercially attractive human language technology in the world.
The system will understand and respond to questions posed by users, and will provide information in conversational English and other selected European languages. Interaction with the computer is not limited to voice alone, users can also use text and images, enabling them to select the most effective medium to access information and services.
The two-year project, called FASIL (flexible and adaptive spoken language and multi-modal interface), will run until September 2004. The Commission grant is awarded under the information society technologies (IST) section of the Fifth Framework Programme, and is one of the highest ever for a project of this type, representing more than half of the 6.4 million euro cost of the project.
FASIL aims to expand the capabilities of advanced voice systems using solutions combining voice, image and text. As Simon Loopuit, chairman and CEO of project partners Vox Generation, explains: 'The number of applications is endless and FASIL will benefit numerous industries ranging from automotive to call centres, travel, banking and data management. We will design the technology in order to facilitate access to information for all. This is consistent with the approach of the European Union, which promotes the full participation of all citizens in our modern information society.'
The consortium, which includes commercial and charitable organisations from the UK, Portugal and Sweden, aims to deliver a truly conversational language engine. Unlike many existing speech systems where the user has to adapt to the limitations of the computer, FASIL technology will allow a user-driven interaction.
Simon Loopuit sees an enormous potential for the technology. 'Today, mobile phones are everywhere. Voice is the obvious communication channel for people on the move,' he explains. 'In FASIL we believe that we are developing the major technological breakthrough required to push the realms of communication forward. FASIL will help organisations and individuals harness the power of 2.5G and 3G mobile networks and provide them with tools for the rapid development of new applications.'
Peter Walters, UK national contact point for the IST programme, agrees, saying that 'FASIL is indicative of the type of innovation the IST programme was established to encourage, and will go towards providing an expanding Europe with the intelligent landscape required for the seamless delivery of services and applications in multiple languages.'