Natural Language Processing: Business Finds Its Voice

Carl Weinschenk

Productivity suites and unified communications offer great benefits. They can be a bit difficult to use, however, and being able to ask a question verbally and have somebody (or, in this case, something) answer is a great solution. That makes them a perfect target for natural language processing (NLP) and virtual assistants.

Cisco and NLP

Cisco has introduced a voice-activated digital assistant – along the lines of Apple’s Siri – into some of its video endpoints. Like its consumer-oriented “sisters” Siri and Alexa from Amazon, Monica will answer questions posed by users.

LightReading says that this came from a Cisco team that specializes in projects that are not quite ready for prime time but are not too far off in the future. The traditional confusion that surrounds unified communications makes this seem like a good area for such a project.

The goal, the story says, is far greater than helping befuddled unified communications users. Cisco aims for Monica to become a comprehensive virtual assistant capable of accessing financial results and other sophisticated and sensitive data. In other words, it will become a real conversation partner, not a glorified help desk worker.

Microsoft and AI

Microsoft said last month that it is acquiring Genee, which it will incorporate into its Office 365 productivity suite. The scheduling service uses artificial intelligence (AI) to “simplify the typically arduous process of scheduling and rescheduling meetings,” according to InformationWeek. The bottom line is that Genee will automate the back and forth that is often a part of meeting scheduling, freeing up the people involved to do something of greater value.

The deals illustrate the attractiveness of combining NLP and AI. NLP, in particular, is a new dimension in helping the uninitiated successfully interface with technology or, in general, get the most out of their corporate or personal time. The lineup of companies that are working hard on NLP is impressive, according to Tractica:

Companies like Amazon, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft, Nuance, and Google are pushing ahead with their research into NLP. These companies and others like AT&T, 3M, and IBM are spending significant sums of money to acquire NLP companies, recruit NLP talent, and mine terabytes of crowdsourced content.

Some lesser-known companies are getting into the act as well. Last month, cloud computing health care firm IDS entered a partnership with NLP firm SyTrue. IDS will use SyTrue’s NLP OS in IDS’s Voice2Dox, which is described as an “advanced clinical and diagnostic reporting and speech recognition platform.” In other words, the SyTrue technology will add to the existing NLP physicians’ platform.

The sense is that NLP is set for fast growth. It could be, at the end of the day, the ultimate interface.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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