Wrap your mind around this one: a telephone system that screens and routes incoming calls according to your (verbal) instructions, places outgoing calls by your voice command, stores your telephone contact list, and reminds you of upcoming appointments. Does this sound like the secretary who was downsized out of existence a few years ago? Well, if you need help 24 hours a day, it's better. It's the Wildfire Electronic Assistant, a voice recognition-based phone system for mobile professionals who need to be as productive on the road as they are in the office.

Here's a scenario: On your way out of town, you program Wildfire with numbers for your car phone, hotel guest room, and on-site meeting office, letting it know where you expect to be when. When a call comes in for you at the office, the caller interacts with Wildfire's soothing, decidedly low-tech voice and, unless Wildfire has been instructed otherwise, the call is forwarded. (It can even tell a hotel operator, for example, "I'm looking for Betty Smith."). Before the caller is put through, Wildfire tells you who is calling and gives you the choice of accepting the call or declining it, in which case Wildfire will take a message for you.

Let's say you take the call. You are now "in session" with Wildfire. Once that first call is over, the session doesn't have to be. You can make calls or check messages:

You: "Wildfire"

Wildfire: "Here I am"

Y: "Call"

W: "Call whom?"

Y: "John Roberts"

W: "At which place?"

Y: "Work"

W: "Dialing"

You then speak to Roberts. If another call comes in to Wildfire while you're on the phone, the system says the name of the second caller in your ear (though Roberts can't hear it) If you ignore it, Wildfire tells the second caller you're busy and offers to take a message.

And those are just the basics. As Wildfire becomes more affordable, people whose business depends on the phone (and whose doesn't?) will find conventional voice mail a pale comparison. Launched just two years ago, Wildfire's price is still relatively high. If your company were to buy a system, the cost ranges from about $40,000 for 24 users, to up to $60,000 for 72 users. Service bureaus catering to individual customers are a second option, with costs running from $40 to $400 per month depending on how much the system is used ($150 to $200 per month is typical).

For a demonstration of the system, call 800-WILDFIRE, or contact Wildfire Communications, Inc., 20 Maguire Road, Lexington, MA 02173; (617) 674-1500.