Nuance Communications

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Nuance Communications, Inc.
IndustryProductivity applications
Founded1992 as Visioneer
HeadquartersBurlington, Massachusetts, United States
Key people
Chairman & CEO: Paul Ricci
ProductsOCR, speech synthesis, speech recognition, PDF, Consulting, Government Contracts
Revenue$1.855 Billion (FY2013)[1]
Number of employees
Over 12,000 (35 offices worldwide)[2]
SloganThe experience speaks for itself
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Nuance Communications, Inc.
IndustryProductivity applications
Founded1992 as Visioneer
HeadquartersBurlington, Massachusetts, United States
Key people
Chairman & CEO: Paul Ricci
ProductsOCR, speech synthesis, speech recognition, PDF, Consulting, Government Contracts
Revenue$1.855 Billion (FY2013)[1]
Number of employees
Over 12,000 (35 offices worldwide)[2]
SloganThe experience speaks for itself

Nuance Communications is an American multinational computer software technology corporation, headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts, United States,a suburb of Boston, that provides speech and imaging applications. Current business products focus on server & embedded speech recognition, telephone call steering systems, automated telephone directory services, medical transcription software & systems, optical character recognition software, and desktop imaging software. The company also maintains a small division which does software and system development for military and government agencies. In October 2011, unconfirmed research suggested that its servers power Apple's iPhone 4S Siri voice recognition application.[3]

As of 2008, the company is a result of organic growth, mergers, and acquisitions. ScanSoft and Nuance merged in October 2005; before the merger, the two companies competed in the commercial large scale speech application business. The officially termed "merger" was a de facto acquisition of Nuance by ScanSoft, though the combined company changed its name to Nuance following the transaction. Before 1999, ScanSoft was known as Visioneer, a hardware and software scanner company. In 1999, Visioneer bought ScanSoft – a Xerox spin-off – and adopted ScanSoft as the company name. The original ScanSoft had its roots in Kurzweil Computer Products, a software company that developed the first omni-font character recognition system.

Company history[edit]

In September 2005, ScanSoft Inc. acquired and merged with Nuance Communications, and the resulting company adopted the Nuance name. For a decade prior to that, the two companies competed in the commercial large-scale speech application business.

ScanSoft origins[edit]

In 1974, Raymond Kurzweil founded the Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. to develop the first omni-font optical character recognition system — a computer program capable of recognizing text written in any normal font.[4] In 1980, Kurzweil sold his company to Xerox.[4] The company became known as Xerox Imaging Systems (XIS), and later ScanSoft.

In March 1992, a new company called Visioneer, Inc. was founded to develop scanner hardware and software products, such as PaperPort. Visioneer eventually sold its hardware division to Primax Electronics, Ltd. in January 1999. Two months later, in March, Visioneer acquired ScanSoft from Xerox to form a new public company with ScanSoft as the company name.

Prior to 2001, ScanSoft focused primarily on desktop imaging software such as TextBridge [2], PaperPort and OmniPage. Beginning with the December 2001 acquisition of Lernout & Hauspie, the company moved into the speech recognition business and began to compete with Nuance.

Nuance history prior to the 2005 merger with ScanSoft[edit]

Nuance was founded in 1994 as a spin-off of SRI International's Speech Technology and Research (STAR) Laboratory to commercialize the speaker-independent speech recognition technology developed for the US government at SRI. Based in Menlo Park, California, Nuance deployed their first commercial large-scale speech application in 1996. Their initial route to market was through call center automation. Call centers had just centralized the branch-office telephone handling function throughout many large companies. The highest cost of running call centers is the cost of staff. Early projects were completely developed by Nuance to prove the commercial practicality and benefits.

Early Nuance applications ran on Windows NT-based and Solaris operating systems, and commonly relied on Dialogic boards for the telephony hardware.

In simple terms; the technology produced allowed a computer to determine what a speaker was saying within a specific and limited vocabulary of phrases. Its key advantage over technologies such as ViaVoice was that the system did not need training for the specific speaker. This permitted the use of the system, so-called Speaker-Independent Natural Language Speech Recognition, (SI-NLSR or just NLSR) for call automation.

The limited vocabulary was typically a few thousand different variations of phrases. In complex systems this could be in the low millions. At the time, these systems were pushing the limits of computer processing power in commodity Intel x86 servers until the early 2000s.

During the late 1990s and into the 2000s Nuance competed against other NLSR vendors including Philips SpeechPearl, SpeechWorks and other smaller players which were typically geographically focused such as Vocalis in the UK which used proprietary PCI cards with DSPs on board to improve the efficiency and density of the system.

Each speech-recognition engine provider had to determine how to convert written text into sounds. Determining how written text is spoken is a hugely challenging task in itself. Languages are "modeled", samples of real spoken-language is recorded and analyzed to create a language model. The higher the quality the language model the better the experience of the user, especially in complex interactions. Different language models were required for different dialects such as Flemish being a variant of Dutch, or Swiss German being a dialect of High-German. Different models were also created for different qualities of telephone connection. Europe's Philips had by far the largest language coverage which included Flemish and Welsh, although these may have been funded by an EU grant or subsidy.[citation needed]

Later, Nuance sold licenses (training and consulting) to their technology to third parties, including independent software vendors and interactive voice response (IVR) vendors who would build applications on top of an IVR platform. SpeechWorks on the other hand would typically deliver the application with the technology or with a group of key delivery partners. The technology was integrated into most of the leading IVR products from Avaya, Nortel Periphonics, Envox, Syntellect and many others. The requirements of telephony reliability meant many of these solutions ran on various versions of UNIX.

Nuance 7 was launched in the late 1990s and was an efficient network-distributed NLSR speech recognition solution; it ran on Unix and Windows. Nuance 8 added Statistical Language Modeling, an adaption of technologies used in technologies, such as ViaVoice to improve the range of phrases that the system could recognize at the expense of greater implementation cost and complexity. Nuance 8.x series also introduced the W3C vocabulary definition language GrXML in addition to and eventual replacement of Nuance's proprietary and very concise Grammar Specification Language, GSL.

Nuance 8.5 was the last point release before the take-over by ScanSoft.

These systems were significantly different from the technology used in consumer speech recognition products such as ViaVoice, which is now also a Nuance product.

Nuance marketed their brand and technology at call center exhibitions although they rarely delivered solutions directly relying on ISV and telecom manufacturing partners instead, such as Nortel Periphonics, Avaya, Syntellect and others. Nuance provided a core component of speech recognition solutions for call automation and leveraged partners to deliver solutions.[clarification needed] Many problematic solutions were developed by traditional telephony developers building speech solutions. designing and developing speech solutions requires a different skill-set and mind-set to that of traditional DTMF solutions.

For a couple of years prior to the takeover by ScanSoft, Nuance started selling solutions directly, including their Call-Steering product which was predominantly a call center call-routing product, which determined the skill group required for the call based on responses to reasonably open questions asked of the caller.

Nuance 9.0 is the first release (excluding service packs) of the recognizer product since the acquisition and is an amalgam of the technologies acquired from various companies including Philips Speech Pearl, Speechworks, Nuance Recognizer and others. Further information is not known about this product

Partnership with Siri and Apple Inc.[edit]

Siri is an application that combines speech recognition with advanced natural language processing. The artificial intelligence, which required both advances in the underlying algorithms and leaps in processing power both on mobile devices and the servers that share the workload, allows software to understand not just words but the intentions behind them.[5]

Telephony application process[edit]

Recognizer process[edit]


A typical Nuance recognizer configuration required four or five applications to be started, often monitored by a sixth application.

Nuance License Manager: kept a watch on the number concurrent speech calls in use.
recognition client: it is the interface between the IVR speech path and the speech recognizing software, the recserver. The recclient can be developed into the IVR software.
distributes the load over the recservers as required to balance load and to provide fault-tolerance.
where the speech is compared and processed against known vocabulary.
an application that dynamically adds words or phrases to an expected vocabulary for recognition.
a Windows service or Unix daemon that monitors and maintains the above processes, restarting them if required.

Except for the watchdog which should be running on all the nuance speech servers, the other processes may be spread over a farm of servers, connected by an IP network with low latency and high-bandwidth, usually a dedicated LAN segment. The resource manager directs which resources it thinks are least utilized.

Nuance vs. the competition[edit]

The key difference between Nuance and Speechworks products of the time[when?] was that they used different methods for "End-Pointing", the process for determining the beginning and end of speech. Nuance looked for a change in "Voice-Energy" — essentially a significant change in volume within a specific set of frequencies, whereas SpeechWorks tried to look for sound combinations that were likely to be speech based on the phrases pre-loaded into the system. It may seem that the Nuance method was crude, but this was implemented due to the limitations of the computational power available in computer servers at the time and the need to provide high-density applications, i.e., not require too many servers for a deployment.


Prior to the 2005 merger, ScanSoft acquired other companies to expand its business. Unlike ScanSoft, Nuance did not actively acquire companies prior to their merger. After the merge, the company continued to grow through acquisition.

ScanSoft acquisitions prior to the merger[edit]

ScanSoft merges with Nuance; changes company-wide name to "Nuance Communications, Inc."[edit]

Nuance acquisitions after merger[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Siegler, M.G. (2011). "Siri, Do You Use Nuance Technology? Siri: I’m Sorry, I Can’t Answer That.". AOL Inc. Retrieved 5 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc." Smithsonian Speech Synthesis History Project (SSSHP) 1986–2002
  5. ^ Wildstrom, Steve. "Nuance Exec on iPhone 4s, Siri, and the Future of Speech". TechPinions. Retrieved 10 October 2011. 
  6. ^ Nuance to acquire SNAPin
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  9. ^ Bulkeley, William M. (January 16, 2009). "Nuance Buys IBM Assets, Raises Funds". The Wall Street Journal. 
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  14. ^ "Nuance Acquires SpinVox, Accelerates Expansion of Voice-to-Text Business". Reuters. December 30, 2009. 
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  18. ^ "Voice biometrics co Persay sold for $6.7m". Globes. 30 November 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  19. ^ Read, Brendan B. (6 January 2011). "IVR: Nuance Acquires PerSay to Bring Voice Biometrics to Market". Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
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  25. ^ Wauters, Robin. "After Years Of Patent Litigation, Nuance Acquires Vlingo". TechCrunch. 
  26. ^ Rao, Leena. "Nuance Buys Transcription And Speech Editing Company Transcend For $300M In Cash". TechCrunch. 
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