Braille Monitor December 1986
by Kenneth Jernigan
In the course of my work with the National Federation of the Blind I come across all kinds of people and all kinds of specialized aids and devices. Mostly the people are interesting, and the aids and devices less so. Sometimes there is a sparkling exception.
Such an exception occurred recently when I had occasion to examine the Voice-Dialer Telephone and to talk with its inventor (at least, I assume he invented it), Sid Mehta, who heads up a company called Innovative Devices. Mehta said that he had been working on artificial intelligence technology for several years and that the Voice-Dialer Telephone was one of the results. As he described it, the Voice-Dialer is a regular telephone which calls a number when you speak the name of the person you want to call into the telephone mouthpiece. He said that the phone has several other features, including the ability to tell you the telephone number of any person whose name and number you have keyed into the system.
When I tried the Voice-Dialer, I found it to be a delightful experience. It plugs into any regular telephone jack, and it also requires a regular wall electrical outlet. You push a button and the telephone tells you to say the name of the person you wish to call. If you don't speak with enough volume, the phone says: "Louder." It has various other comments it may make, such as: "Not long enough" if you say only one syllable in an attempt to confuse it. Assuming you have pronounced the name in a reasonably understandable manner, the phone asks you to say it again. This allows it to make sure of recognizing your voice. It will then ask you to insert the number attached to the name you have just spoken. You do this on a regular touch-tone phone pad. Then, you hang up. After that, any time you pick up the phone and say the name, it will dial the number for you.
It is keyed to your voice and will not respond to other voices, but with care and repeated effort you can sometimes trick it. You may insert up to a hundred names and numbers, and if more than one person wishes to call a given number, each of you will need to say the name and key the number into the instrument. If two people key in the same name and number, it uses two of the hundred possible places. The phone does, indeed, have a directory. If you push a button and tell it the name, it will give you the phone number you have previously keyed in. These are some of the features of the instrument. There are doubtless others, but these are the ones I tried.
As with everything, the Voice-Dialer has advantages and disadvantages. My experimenting indicates that if you unplug it from the wall, the numbers that have been keyed in are lost, but this simply may be my lack of understanding of how to operate the instrument. The cost of the Voice-Dialer is just under $250.00. It is certainly fun to play with, and it could have real value to a person who (for whatever reason) has difficulty in dialing telephones or remembering or looking up numbers.
The NFB is not selling these phones since they are readily available at the same price we can get them. If you are interested in more information, you can call a toll-free number--1-800-345-3553. You can also write to: Innovative Devices, 1333 Lawrence Expressway, Suite 254, Santa Clara, California 95051. Mr. Mehta says that he accepts American Express, Master Card, and Visa. He also accepts personal checks, but shipment of the phone will be delayed until the check clears.