In 2010, Google added "personalized recognition" to Voice Search on Android phones, so that the software could record users' voice searches and produce a more accurate speech model. The company also added Voice Search to its Chrome browser in mid-2011. Remember how we started with 10 to 100 words, and then graduated to a few thousand? Google's English Voice Search system now incorporates 230 billion words from actual user queries.
And now along comes Siri. Like Google's Voice Search, Siri relies on cloud-based processing. It draws what it knows about you to generate a contextual reply, and it responds to your voice input with personality. (As my PCWorld colleague David Daw points out: "It's not just fun but funny. When you ask Siri the meaning of life, it tells you '42' or 'All evidence to date points to chocolate.' If you tell it you want to hide a body, it helpfully volunteers nearby dumps and metal foundries.")
Speech recognition has gone from utility to entertainment. The child seems all grown up.
The Future: Accurate, Ubiquitous Speech
The explosion of voice recognition apps indicates that speech recognition's time has come, and that you can expect plenty more apps in the future. These apps will not only let you control your PC by voice or convert voice to text--they'll also support multiple languages, offer assorted speaker voices for you to choose from, and integrate into every part of your mobile devices (that is, they'll overcome Siri's shortcomings).
The quality of speech recognition apps will improve, too. For instance, Sensory's Trulyhandsfree Voice Control can hear and understand you, even in noisy environments.
As everyone starts becoming more comfortable speaking aloud to their mobile gadgets, speech recognition technology will likely spill over into other types of devices. It isn't hard to imagine a near future when we'll be commanding our coffee makers, talking to our printers, and telling the lights to turn themselves off.