For a few months, Apple has maintained a secretive office near the MIT campus. Now, Xconomy reports the company has been hiring notable speech recognition talent to use the location as a speech recognition research office.

Apple has assembled a small team of notable names in speech technology and is looking to expand those efforts in the Boston area, industry sources tell Xconomy.

Based on their online job profiles, we can say that members of the Apple speech team here are working on Siri, the company’s voice-activated virtual assistant. Details beyond that are hard to come by, however, even for others in the field.

Many companies build small liaison offices near suppliers of products and technology to help in cross-collaborative work…

Siri, a startup company acquired by Apple in 2010, used Nuance due to its IP in speech technology, but in a 2011 interview with 9to5Mac, Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky says the technology isn’t dependent on Nuance.

9to5Mac: How important is Nuance speech recognition to the Siri technology?

Norm: It is a lot less important than you’d probably think. When we first built Siri, we use Vlingo for speech recognition and as such, at the time of purchase the speech recognition component is modular. Theoretically, if a better speech recognition comes along (or Apple buys one), they could likely replace Nuance without too much trouble. That being said, Nuance has far and away the most IP in speech synthesis technologies in the industry. We should know, SRI launched Nuance as one of our incubated companies in 1995 and it IPO’d in 2000.

Xconomy offers the alternate theory that Apple is actually building a Nuance replacement within the confines of this Boston office:

You’d have to imagine that sets off alarm bells at Nuance, which has traditionallysupplied the speech-recognition technology inside Siri. By opening its own speech-technology office here—stocked with former Nuance employees, no less—Apple could be signaling a move away from relying on Nuance for Siri’s guts.

Apple also uses Nuance to do the Speech recognition work in its Mac speech to text and text to speech.

It would seem more likely that Apple would be seeking tighter Nuance integration rather than an in-house replacement, since Nuance has a large IP portfolio in the area and we all know how the in-house Maps launch went…

On the other hand, Apple does like to own the important technology that it uses, and has plenty of resources to throw at such a venture.

(via Slashdot)