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Israeli firm dabbles with computer that babbles

The company says it has made a breakthrough with a computer capable of teaching itself to speak and allowing a person to operate it using voice alone.

    An Israeli company says it has made a breakthrough with a computer capable of teaching itself to speak and allowing a person to operate it using voice alone.

    Scientists at Artificial Intelligence Enterprises, based in Tel Aviv, Israel, said they have developed a computer that has learned to talk like a toddler does.

    If successful, the concept promises to do away with keyboards and bring an era of more personal home computers.

    The project has been named HAL, after the self-aware computer in Stanley Kubrick's seminal film "2001: A Space Odyssey," which spoke directly to astronauts aboard a mission to Jupiter.

    AIE said it has adopted an unconventional approach to creating the computer. The company says that its computers have just a simple set of learning algorithms and develop speech by talking to humans, instead of using a set of statistical rules and a vocabulary database to approximate human conversation.

    According to AIE, the computer has even fooled observers into thinking they are communicating with a child. This is symbolic as it represents the acid test for intelligence devised by British mathematician Alan Turing.

    "Once it exists, there are millions of uses for it," AIE Chief Scientist Jason Hutchens said in an interview with New Scientist magazine.

    AIE has yet to demonstrate its technology, but the promise of more human computing has already sparked interest from some researchers. Steve Grand, a British artificial intelligence researcher developing a robot with learning capabilities, says that language could hold the key to home computing in the future.

    "Language is important to communicating with computers, and it's nice to see learning being used," he said. Grand said there are also benefits to keyboards and viewing data on a screen, but that speech could become an important part of home computing.