This article explains how speech recognition works. Today, when we call most large companies, a person doesn't usually answer the phone. Instead, an automated voice recording answers and instructs you to press buttons to move through option menus. Many companies have moved beyond requiring you to press buttons, though. Often you can just speak certain words (again, as instructed by a recording) to get what you need. The system that makes this possible is a type of speech recognition program -- an automated phone system.
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