Flanders Language Valley sails into action

Foundation will open 10 additional science parks worldwide

To the tunes of a choral fanfare, and the synthesised sound of a computer, the Belgian royal family yesterday evening opened the Flanders Language Valley park, near Ypres, the site of mass slaughter during the First World War. At the same time, the former prime minister of Belgium, Jean-Luc Dehaene, announced the future structure of the SAIL (speech artificial intelligence and language) trust, which will introduce ten similar IT parks across the world. SAIL, the idea of Jo Lernout and Pol Hauspie, who founded speech and translation firm Lernout & Hauspie, will invest $10 million dollars in each of the sites over the next three to five years. According to Pol Hauspie, he and his partner seeded the idea with money from L&H shares, but SAIL is a completely independent venture and has also received endorsement and funding from both Intel and Cisco. Microsoft and Intel each own around seven per cent of Lernout & Hauspie. Intel's CEO Craig Barrett and Cisco's CEO John Chambers, both welcomed the opening of the Flanders site. Intel has a joint venture with Lernout & Hauspie in Flanders. The 10 so called "ports" will be established across the world, with sites on the East and West coast of the USA, in the Arabian peninsula, in Latin America, in Northern Europe and in Singapore. Lernout said that his company was close to developing technology which would allow PCs and other devices to speak with the voice of their owners. General availability of this software was likely to be two years down the line, but L&H will be able by the end of next year to tailor such systems to specific customers and applications, he said. The process dissects the speech patterns and tones of an individual voice and is then re-assembled into a digital form, he said. The JV with L&H and Intel is targeted at the e-commerce market, said Lernout. Intel has a 51 per cent stake in the site, and it will develop so-called intelligent robots (not rabbits), that will be able to trawl the Web. Lernout said that in two to three years time, there will be enough MIPs on the PC platform to revolutionise the user interface of operating system software, and to perform all manner of complex speech, translation and AI tasks. He also held out the prospect of such technology being embedded into digital signal processors (DSPs) and in CPUs themselves, which would extend the power of such applications in both vertical and horizontal applications. ®

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