"Machines that listen and talk like humans are becoming a reality, researchers and tech executives say.

The technical kinks, high costs and application misfires that have held back the acceptance of speech recognition and activation are being ironed out, they say. As a result, companies are coming out with a variety of products that will let consumers access databases using voice commands, for example, or transform e-mails into one- or two-way verbal exchanges."

Microsoft plans to release the first public beta of Speech Server on Wednesday, which will enable servers to better handle oral commands. The final release version is not expected until 2004. Read more here.