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If you want to call Mom or Dad, just say the word Bell Atlantic to offer phones that recognize voice commands


Phone home.

If all goes according to plan, that's all you'll have to say to call home next year, when Bell Atlantic Corp. expects to add "voice recognition" to its ever-growing family of services.

Voice-recognition technology allows computers to recognize human speech, eliminating the need for computer keyboards, telephone keypads and -- yes -- all those multidigit codes you now must remember to gain access to everything from voice mailboxes to speed dialing services.

"The problem now is that people forget the codes. When they go to speed dial, they can't remember if Mom is star-1 or star-5, because Mom is Mom," says Robert Duerr, product manager of speech recognition for Bell Atlantic, the Philadelphia-based parent of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.

"With voice recognition, there's nothing to remember. You just pick up the phone and say 'Phone Mom.' It's that simple."

With the new technologies, Bell Atlantic customers would no longer have to peruse their memory banks when they wanted to use one of the nearly two dozen enhanced services sold by the company.

They'd just tell the telephone whom or where to call. And the phone -- actually the network, beefed up with sophisticated software and high-powered mathematical formulas designed to dissect the human voice -- would do the rest.

Greater simplicity for customers could translate into big bucks for Bell Atlantic, which has been trying to grow its relatively new enhanced-services business into a major moneymaker.

Mike Balhoff, a senior telecommunications analyst at the brokerage company Legg Mason Wood Walker in Baltimore, says making those services easier to use would only add to the company's coffers.

"Usability is a critical thing to getting these services wider play," Mr. Balhoff says. "Anything they can do to make them more convenient to use will be a revenue enhancer."

The idea of voice recognition has been around for decades. But the advent of high-powered computers has only recently made it economically feasible to execute the mind-numbing job of translating human speech into something understandable to computers. Voice recognition systems are used today to handle NTC things ranging from operator-assisted calls to transactions on Wall Street.

Industry heavyweights such as International Business Machines Corp., Apple Computer Inc. and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. are among dozens of companies experimenting with the technology, which is expected to grow into a $250 million-a-year business by 1995. Bell Atlantic is hoping to earn a place at the head of the pack.

The company recently completed a test using 50 employees at the company's regional headquarters in Arlington, Va. The two-month trial allowed users to complete calls by issuing simple voice commands like "dial home," "speed dial boss" and "forward calls to home."

Over the next year, Bell Atlantic plans to conduct five other trials of voice recognition technologies. The first of those trials is scheduled to start next month in Essex, N.J. That trial, which also involves about 50 Bell Atlantic employees, will take the technology to the home, a critical proving ground for Bell Atlantic's long-term plans for introducing the service into the residential market late next year.

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