Call me an old sceptic (heck, I'm paid for it), but I have always rather despised voice recognition as a means of interfacing with computers. It is a real boon to disabled people, of course, and to anyone who does complex mechanical work and wants to keep their hands free. But for general PC tasks, it only seems fit for lazy people who can't be bothered to learn to use a keyboard and mouse.
Given the choice, surely it is preferable to control a digital device (a computer) using a series of unambiguous digital switches (keys and mouse buttons) rather than a complex and idiosyncratic analogue input - your voice? The idea of navigating round a display by muttering 'up a bit, left a bit' is preposterous, especially since the person at the next desk may be yelling 'down a bit, right a bit' to their own PC at the same time. And controlling household appliances by voice is simply asking for trouble.
Think of all the misunderstandings: 'When I said put the cat out, I didn't mean with the fire extinguisher.' And once we give our gadgets some intelligence, we shall never hear the last of it. 'Tape The Bill for me tonight, would you?' Are you sure you wouldn't prefer that interesting documentary on BBC 2?'
But there is one device which, if you'll pardon the pun, cries out for voice operation - the telephone, especially the mobile phone. Voice is its primary function, after all, so it seems reasonable to use the voice to control it. Unlike a PC, a phone does not have a 102-key keyboard for inputting text or complex commands, and using the number pad is restrictive.
Moreover, with the increasing trend towards miniaturisation (Swatch, NTT and Seiko have all developed phones or computers in a wristwatch), even a 12-key dialling pad is becoming too big to fit on the handset.
Voice control sounds like the obvious answer, except for one snag - the computing power required just doesn't fit inside such a small device.
Philips and Nortel have phones with voice-controlled short dialling, but these can only recognise about a dozen commands. The solution could be to put the intelligence, not in the device, but in the network itself.
Not only will this give beefier processing power and more data storage, but will allow users to take advantage of technology updates without having to buy a new handset or reprogram their existing one.
Voice control will enable more sophisticated applications, from better control of voice mail, to information retrieval from intranets and databases.
In time, it could form the basis of an entire personal assistant, complete with diary, address book, dictation, voice mail and email - all accessed from a hands-free car phone or a Dick Tracy-style watch.
The network computer may have proved a bit of a damp squib. But the network phone could be a bestseller in the next decade.
Paul Bray is a freelance IT journalist.
Chief exec Jens Montanana claims Logicalis performed well despite 'currency headwinds'
All the photos from last night's event, which saw over 600 people congregate at the Hilton London Bankside
Five year deal with Essex NHS Trust will cover 400 sites, including hospitals, clinics and GP practices
18 individuals and three companies walked away as winners at CRN's inaugural Women in Channel Awards last night