A futuristic view at Comdex

The largest computer and technology exhibition, Comdex, is hosted every November in Las Vegas. In 1997, 2,100 companies introduced 10,000 new products to the 225,000 attendees. Bill Gates, chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corp., was the keynote speaker.

Steven M. Seltzer, MBA

The largest computer and technology exhibition, Comdex, is hosted every November in Las Vegas. In 1997, 2,100 companies introduced 10,000 new products to the 225,000 attendees. Bill Gates, chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corp., was the keynote speaker.

Comdex is the place to see and be seen for any technology company. The 639-page guide to the meeting reads like a who`s who in technology. I attend

Comdex every year to evaluate merging technologies, discover products that are adaptable to dentistry and analyze the technologies that will trickle down into the dental profession.

The exhibit floor was loaded with Internet products and digital-still cameras from every imaginable company, including Kodak, Epson, Canon, Olympus, Hewlett Packard, Sony, Konica, Nikon and others. More than a dozen companies showcased small, thin and flat panel displays that, although still a little pricey, are perfect for use in the operatory. Prices on flat panel displays have declined more than 50 percent in the past year. They are available from $1,100 to $3,000, depending upon the size of the display.

Image-database software catalogs digital images by name, date, case type, materials used, and numerous other parameters you can define. Numerous vendors, including Kodak and Microsoft, were selling the software for approximately $50.

My favorite digital color printer from Aztech costs under $300 (plus $.50 per print) and fits into a drive bay in your PC. The print comes out of the computer in three minutes in the same area where you unload the diskette from the diskette drive. Image quality is adequate, but not quite up to the standards of a fine video printer or digital, dye-sublimation print.

One of the most fascinating technological advances was in speech recognition. In 1996 at Comdex, vendors were demonstrating discrete speech-recognition products that required you to talk mechanically and pause after every word. In 1997, three vendors - IBM [(914) 288-3589, www.ibm.com], Lernout & Hauspie [(617) 238-0960, www.lhs.com], and Dragon Systems [(617) 965-5200, www.naturalspeech.com] - demonstrated continuous speech-recognition products priced from $150 to upwards of $10,000.

The lower-priced products, which all three vendors offer, allow you to talk to the computer and have it recognize your speech at 60 to 125 words per minute. As the price increases, the systems` capabilities increase in terms of the number of words shipped with the dictionary (30,000 to 55,000), and other features, such as the ability to digitally record your dictation as you would with a tape recorder while simultaneously converting your speech to text.

The most expensive products have been customized for specific applications. Lernout and Hauspie demonstrated an emergency-room dictation product that templated what the physician should include in his report based upon a variety of diagnoses. In a minute or two, he could produce a comprehensive, written narrative report about a given patient. In addition, the system can import demographic and other data from the patient`s existing medical record from any software vendor that provides an interface to the dictation software. The company has no immediate plans to offer a system for dentistry, although it has shown an interest in creating such a system.

The key issue is how well these speech-recognition systems adapt to specific dental vocabulary (which is conspicuously absent from the standard dictionaries). Seltzer Institute is currently evaluating speech-recognition products and will release a report in the spring. In the interim, these speech-recognition products are extremely valuable for dictating simple letters. If you are chomping at the bit to use e-mail on the Internet, but lack the typing skills to be efficient, you can dictate e-mail with ease.

Be prepared to spend a few hours teaching the system about your particular speech patterns. Most products require that you read a predefined script that can take from a half-hour to several hours. The more time you spend "training" the system, the more accurately it recognizes your speech.

To experience the excitement of Comdex, Seltzer Institute has produced a $39, two-hour video called, "High Tech at Comdex" that includes live product demonstrations and Bill Gates` one-hour keynote presentation. For more information, call (800) 229-8967, ext. 107.

Steven Seltzer is the president of Seltzer Institute and publisher of DDRT (Dentists` Desktop Reference to Technology). The Seltzer Institute offers techno-marketing consulting services. He can be contacted at (800) 229-8967, ext 103. E-mail: sseltzer@hitecdentist.com. Internet: www.hitecdentist.com.

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