London: Artificially intelligent machines that can interact and even argue with you are just years away, as scientists have launched a mega project to develop a new technology that will allow devices to talk to the users.

The technology equipped with artificial intelligence will help machines become familiar with a user's voice, with the ultimate goal that it can understand, speak and behave like a human.

Although the five-year, 6.2-million-pounds project is still in its infancy, researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge and Sheffield believe the technology will have many benefits.

It could improve voice-activated computers, develop web search engines for audio clips and create voice-controlled devices that could help older people stay independent at home for longer, a newspaper reported.

"We are working to develop technologies that can recognise and generate natural-sounding speech," said Dr Steve Renals of Edinburgh University's School of Informatics.

"This could open the door to computer speech technology becoming commonplace throughout our lives -- at home, at work, and in our leisure time."

Besides recognising the users' voice and becoming familiar with their vocabulary, accent and vocal expressions, the technology could also be able to follow the flow of a conversation and to gloss over changes in background noise.

Dr Thomas Hain, of the University of Sheffield's Department of Computer Science, added: "Speech technology is clearly on its way into the mainstream, but the key to its success is human-like performance.

"We are working on the foundations of technology that will bring speech to new users and exciting new applications, from clinical assistive technology to robotics, from schools to board rooms."