Some of Us Already Talk to Them

California once again home to talkies: this time it's computers you talk to

Venice, CA  June 12, 2001  Remember the scene in Star Trek IV, the one where the crew has to go back in time to capture a whale? For some convenient reason, this really ominous-looking probe has shut down all the Earth's power sources and is communicating in what Spock determines is whale talk (I don't come up with this stuff, I just write about it). Since whales are extinct in the future (don't say you weren't warned, Shamu), it's time travel to the rescue. The whales have to be retrieved and then taken into the future to serve as some sort of plankton-eating hostage negotiators, if I remember correctly.

The best scene in the movie is one in which Scotty sits down in front of a normal, keyboard-sporting, 20th Century computer and starts talking to it. He starts out in a conversational tone, but soon transitions to pretty much admonishing the computer for not responding to his commands. That was good for some giggles back in 1986, but if one company has its way, people will soon be chattering away their problems to sympathetic computers.

Talkie Inc., a conversational character interface company, today announced the launch of two standardized Talkie character products to enable better communication and customer service between companies and their customers. Talkie Inc. is an artificial intelligence software technology provider specializing in proprietary conversational natural language solutions for customer service, e-commerce and other applications.

Talkie characters are the first fully conversational virtual customer service representatives. Talkies are animated characters that verbally respond with human or synthetic voices to a users' text input on the Web, with lip-synch, appropriate facial expressions and gestures. Using proprietary natural language and behavioral animation technology, Talkie characters are available to the majority of Internet browsers without a separate download, and operate over dial-up connections.

Talkie Guide creates conversational characters to deliver instant answers to a customer's top questions, and to solve common customer issues. Talkie Expert creates virtual advocates that can demonstrate products and integrate with interactive multimedia presentations.

According to Datamonitor, it is estimated that inadequate customer service on the Internet will cost the US $9 billion in 2002. Talkie characters turn online customer service into a positive experience for providers and end users, said Talkie CEO John Tarnoff. Talkies provide consistent, accurate information at a fraction of the cost of live [representatives].

Companies looking to drive traffic to their Web sites and reduce call center costs can have Talkie customize these products to suit their knowledge base needs and take advantage of the branding opportunity of a human-like virtual representative. Adds Talkie Inc.'s Chief Software Architect Robit Hairman, Our technology is making computers human-literate. Our focus groups are consistent: people respond to Talkie characters because they are uniquely lifelike.

All that's great, but as long as we're imitating Star Trek, let's hope somebody is working on a transporter that can transport me directly from home to work, gaining valuable extra snooze minutes.