Mike Phillips (speech recognition)

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Michael "Mike" Phillips (born August 1, 1961) is the CEO and co-founder of Sense Labs and a pioneer in machine learning, including mobile speech recognition and text-to-speech technology.


Phillips was a student in electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.[1] He was also a researcher for Carnegie Mellon and then a research scientist at the Spoken Language Systems group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),[2] where he helped to develop VOYAGER, an “urban navigation and exploration system” that could recognize and interpret basic spoken queries.[3] VOYAGER was one of the first research systems to combine speech recognition and natural language processing to have a conversation with a user.[4]


In 1994, Phillips co-founded and became CTO of Boston-based SpeechWorks,[5] which became one of the leading US-based vendors of speech recognition technology at the time, alongside Nuance Communications and IBM.[6] The startup developed interactive voice response systems, including call-center interfaces for clients including Amtrak[7] and FedEx.[8] SpeechWorks’ technology worked for call-center interfaces because the customer could verbally answer questions posed by the human-sounding speech recognition program, rather than navigating through a menu. The technology also had time-saving “barge-in” capabilities, meaning that a customer could interrupt the system before it finished offering the full list of options. The system could also “learn.” It kept a record of names or phrases customers had used in the past so that it could learn to understand names and phrases that slightly differed from its original vocabulary.[9]

SpeechWorks’ value more than tripled after its initial public offering,[8] and it was acquired by ScanSoft in 2003.[2] While Phillips was CTO at ScanSoft, he worked on technologies across the company’s products, including the leading dictation software Dragon NaturallySpeaking.[10] ScanSoft then acquired Nuance Communications in 2005, and adopted the latter’s name.[5]

Phillips returned to MIT as a visiting scientist and co-founded Vlingo in 2006 with former SpeechWorks colleague John Nguyen.[5] An intelligent software assistant, Vlingo is a speech-to-text application integrated with user-facing apps for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and other smartphones.[11] Vlingo software allowed users to text and navigate smartphones via voice recognition.[11] The first cell phone speech recognition software that successfully interpreted user input and learned over time,[12] the software would later be adapted into the popular personal assistant software Siri.[13]

In 2008, Nuance Communications[14] attempted to sue Vlingo on the grounds of patent infringement. Phillips was offered the choice to either sell Vlingo to Nuance or be sued. After six lengthy lawsuits, Phillips won, but the $3 million in legal fees drained his company’s research and development funds.[15] Vlingo was sold to Nuance in December 2011.[16]

In 2013, Phillips co-founded a startup, Sense Labs.[17] Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Sense home energy monitor is an in-development device. Once attached to a home’s electric panel, it “listens” to a home’s electricity usage and identifies the wattage various appliances draw.[18] The first wave of Sense energy monitors began shipping in early December 2015.

Phillips has served on various boards and holds more than 20 patents.[19]


  • 2004: Top Leader in Speech from Speech Technology Magazine [20]
  • 2005: Winner of the Speech Technology Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award [21]

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ "CMU Robust Speech Recognition Home Page". www.cs.cmu.edu. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  2. ^ a b "Speech Industry Expert Mike Phillips Joins Tell-Eureka Advisory Board; MIT Scientist and a Founder of Speechworks (Now Part of Nuance) to Help Tell-Eureka Bring Next Generation Speech Applications to a Broader Market | Business Wire". www.businesswire.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  3. ^ Zue, Victor. "From Speech Recognition to Spoken Language Understanding: The Development of the MIT SUMMIT and VOYAGER Systems" (PDF).
  5. ^ a b c Fitzgerald, Michael (2008-01-27). "The Coming Wave of Gadgets That Listen and Obey". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  6. ^ Fluss, Donna (June 2002). "Ripe for the picking. (Speech Recognition)".
  7. ^ "Talk to the Phone | MIT Technology Review". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  8. ^ a b Kirsner, Scott (2012-05-25). "Former SpeechWorks chief executive out raising money for Xtone, startup that wants to speech-enable mobile apps". Boston.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  9. ^ "Thrifty speaks to its customers: car rental agency deploys speech recognition to improve customer experience while reducing costs". Customer Interface. October 2002.
  10. ^ Akass, Clive (July 1, 2005). "Voice on a sound footing. Speech input has become viable on PCs and will soon be available on mobiles. But it has a long way to go before you can throw away your keyboard, writes Clive Akass".
  11. ^ a b Banks, Courtney. "A Safer Way to Text on the Road". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  12. ^ "Vlingo's Adaptive Speech Recognition Promises an End to Typing on your Phone Keyboard | Xconomy". Xconomy. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  13. ^ Farrell, Michael. "Does Siri soar on Dragon's wings?" (PDF).
  14. ^ "Nuance Plays Hardball in Voice Recognition". BloombergView. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  15. ^ "The Patent, Used as a Sword - NYTimes.com". mobile.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  16. ^ UTC, Samantha Murphy Kelly2011-12-20 21:39:55. "Nuance Acquires Voice-Recognition Competitor Vlingo". Mashable. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  17. ^ Duhigg, Charles; Lohr, Steve (2012-10-07). "In Technology Wars, Using the Patent as a Sword". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  18. ^ "Cambridge's Sense Labs starts production of new device to track what's happening at home". www.betaboston.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  19. ^ Cohan, Peter. "5 Reasons to Scrap Our Patent System: #1. Apple's Siri". Forbes. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  20. ^ "2004 Speech Solutions Winners". www.speechtechmag.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  21. ^ "2005 Speech Solutions Winners". www.speechtechmag.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21.