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Watching your natural language at CTIA

The future of natural language systems.

The CTIA Wireless mini-event kicks off today in San Francisco, and while it is just a small slice of the huge spring event that takes place each year, it already looks like there will be a healthy offering of new products and technologies at this relatively new conference and exhibition. One of the more interesting debuts comes today from Sybase, Inc. subsidiary iAnywhere Solutions, which unveils a natural language middleware technology, called Answers Anywhere, that allows cell phone uses to request information from Web services using word and sentences instead of cryptic key commands and aggravating pull-down menus and detailed query protocols. The technology can also be used on a variety of wireless-enabled handheld devices, including next-generation smartphones and voice-enabled Blackberry systems.

We spoke last week with iAnywhere Senior Director of Business Development Antoine Blondeau about the new technology, as well as the company's product strategy as it relates to highly-mobile devices and cell phones. Answers Anywhere, he explained, is patented technology that changes the way people interact with mobile applications. Rather than rely on menu systems or menu query language, the technology 'turns the paradigm on its head' by actually listening to what a person is saying and requesting.

"Traditionally, natural language systems have been very difficult to build," he says. "The approach we've taken is not to look at language, but the semantic representation of an application." The result is not only a user interface that is familiar and requires relatively no time to learn, but also an environment that allows wireless service providers and developers to build voice-enabled natural language interface (NLI) applications within days instead of years, says Blondeau. For example, iAnywhere has worked with a developer in France to create a Yellow Pages application, and is working with such large wireless service providers as Orange in Europe and KDDI in Japan to build applications using the Answer Anywhere Mobile Edition tool sets.

The real benefit of the technology is that it is not dependent on languages to make it work, says Boudreau. "Our approach to natural language not to necessarily look at the language." In reality, "90% of work is in the semantic representation and 10% in the language. Localization is just 10% of the work."

At CTIA, iAnywhere will also be announcing mFolio, a technology that allows users to easily access personalized Web content, without using a lot of complicated content transcoding. The iAnywhere team claims the technology used in mFolio is based on many years of research into finger-printing identification techniques, which rely on recognizing and defining some very specific points of reference within a fingerprint to make a positive identification (cue the CSI music!). The technology is also being offered to wireless carriers and content developers, and in fact is now being tested by a U.S. service provider based in the mid-west.

Sybase is also working very closely with Intel Corp. to see how it might be used to leverage the use of mobile devices and perhaps taking advantage of the inherent capabilities of Intel's own X-Scale Architecture technology.

  • If you are at CTIA this week, be sure to check it out. If not, then pop on over to the iAnywhere Web site

    where news of the intros will be posted soon after the official press conference this morning.

    Tim Scannell is the president and chief analyst with Shoreline Research, a Quincy, Mass.-based consulting company specializing in mobile and wireless technology and initiatives. Shoreline works with end users, looking to implement mobile solutions, and vendors, developing new products and seeking business and customer opportunities. The company also specializes in training and strategic planning projects. For more information on Shoreline Research and the company's strategic services please go to

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