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With the demo yesterday of Microsoft’s Cortana, the battle of the voice agents is now fully engaged.

Today we learned that Apple has shored up its Siri voice team with the unheralded acquisition of a Dragon Systems spinoff called Novauris Technologies.

Dragon Systems, bought by Nuance Communications and best known for Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Dragon Dictate, has been a pioneer in voice recognition. Unconfirmed by Apple but confirmed by Nuance, the latter’s technology underlies Siri’s voice recognition.

But Nuance is not exclusive to Apple, as the company also works for Samsung, which has the S Voice agent. Rumors have suggested that Apple has tried to buy Nuance, possibly on more than one occasion.

“Siri is limited in the realm of knowledge,” Reticle Research principal analyst Ross Rubin told VentureBeat.

“The Holy Grail [for Apple] is to ask it anything and have it respond.”

Novauris’ technology may help Apple take a big step in that direction: the next evolution of the voice agents as they achieve greater accuracy and intelligence.

The U.K.-based Novauris says on its website that its technology couples “novel, advanced speech recognition with proprietary, fast search techniques” and that its core technology is focused on allowing “access to very large databases with just a single utterance.”

Instead of the conventional technique of applying a grammar to a sequence of words, Novaruis says its NovaSearch matches phrases against a huge inventory of possibilities:

NovaSearch derives its power — power that allows direct access to 245 million items — mainly from its tight integration between speech recognition and database search.

NovaSearch can reportedly distinguish up to 100,000 items with unstructured utterances, and its tech provides rapid, accurate identification of up to 245 million items with structured data, such as addresses. Depending on the task, a wide variation of the phrases can be accommodated, like “Get me a coffee,” “A coffee please,” or “Fetch me a cup of coffee.”

Founded in 2002, Novauris started with ex-employees from the Dragon Systems R&D subsidiary. The terms of the acquisition, which apparently occurred last year, have not been made public. Apple has neither confirmed nor denied the purchase.

via TechCrunch

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