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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
Speaking for security
Forming words
Your word is not your bond, it's your credit limit
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Soon, before you can spend or shop, you might have to speak into your smartcard.

A small UK company has created a speech recognition system that can fit comfortably on a smartcard and do its job using nothing more than the humble processing power of the chip on the card.

By putting the speech recognition on a smartcard, the company hopes to make it safer to use the cards online and off.

The technology might also be used in mobile phones, making pressing buttons a relic of the past.

It has been developed by Swindon-based Domain Dynamics and takes a novel approach to speech recognition.

Chip chops

Many PC-based speech recognition systems rely on the processing power of a computer to analyse a long data stream generated as a user speaks.

The computer samples the speech stream thousands of times a second and then analyses the data to reveal where words begin and end, and the variations within them, to extract the sense of what is being said.

By contrast, the Domain Dynamics technology only takes note when the parts of speech such as phonemes and syllables start and stop.

By cutting spoken language into its elements and noticing how these elements change as they are spoken, Domain Dynamics has found that speech breaks down into 29 distinctive components.

The record of each component takes up far less storage space than the speech sound it represents.

By combining these components, Domain Dynamics can deconstruct and recreate any spoken word or phrase. This is turned into a speech recognition system using a chip called a digital signal processor that chops the sounds into their distinctive components.

Security device

Now Domain Dynamics has squeezed this recognition system on to a smartcard with only 8 kilobytes of memory. The speech system takes up a tiny 3.6 kilobytes of space, leaving room for other programs.

This cut-down system can recognise a few words or phrases and is intended to be used as an extra security measure for credit cards wherever they are used.

"You can check if a card is valid and that an owner is not in trouble with their bank," said Martin George, sales manager at Domain Dynamics, "But that does nothing to verify that the person with that card is the rightful owner."

Because the smartcard stores only the components spoken by the owner, Domain Dynamics claims it is far harder for criminals to extract them and pose as the bearer of the card.

Mr George said Domain Dynamics was talking to mobile phone handset makers on ways to install the system into the SIM cards that told a phone who owned it and stored phone numbers and text messages.

Eventually, he said, phones might become little more than lapel badges that people speak in to without the need to press any buttons.

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