With the recent writing of this blog, I have begun to look for easier ways to write articles. It occurred to me that one of the possible technologies out there is voice dictation. It has been a number of years since the last time I looked at voice dictation software and my previously experiences with the quality of the software was not very good. However that was many years ago, so I have decided to reinvest some time to look into the current crop of voice dictation software, and after some research I settled on Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred Edition. I will briefly describe my experience getting started.
Just like in previous experiences, the first step post-installation to train the software to recognize your voice. To train the software, NS has a section called the Accuracy Center that has you read a series of passages into a microphone. As luck would have, as it did last time I tried voice software out, I managed to get cold as I was getting started. Some on the passages were fairly interesting. For example, one of the passages was John F. Kennedy's inaugural address. Some of the other passages were a pretty funny story from Dave Barry, various email messages and mock sales literature, and Dogbert’s Principles of Management. The Dave Barry passage actually had me laughing at some points, which added itself to the difficulty. Despite having a cold and snickering at some of the funnier passages, Dragon NaturallySpeaking still recognized the words fairly with a good degree of accuracy.
After training, the software needs to adapt the data files to a user profile. Hardware does appear to be a factor since I continually ran out of virtual memory during the adaptation. However it did seem like the software did adapt what it could process, so I had to repeat the process a few times, leading me to believe patience is definitely a requirement.
Over the course of several weeks I continued to train with the software. The more training I did the more accuracy improved. After a week or so I began working with dictating documents (in fact you are reading one of them right now). There are times when you have to talk a little slower in order for the engine to recognize words correctly, but that is a minor inconvenience when compared to the amount of time that you save by using your voice as input. Besides, I like to read and revise my wording quite a bit anyhow. It does have the occasional misinterpretation of words, however the software does provide a correction option. By highlighting the misinterpreted words, you can right-mouse click and choose a similar word from a list, and the software will take note and add to the user profile.
While we're still a few years away from using voice one, such as in Star Trek, it is possible to effectively communicate with a computer using your voice. Having a keyboard and mouse handy are still required tools unfortunately. Despite this, I do believe that voice dictation has actually made quite a bit of progress. The question is if it is just a novelty or can someone work and be productive with it has been answered by a few weeks of work with the software, to which I would answer it can be a productive tool. I would be curious to see what kinds of issues come up with people who have speech impediments. Hopefully within the next 10 years if the technology continues to progress in the manner that it has been we will start to see PCs readily equipped with voice dictation as an option. Currently Office 2003 has an add-on package, so perhaps this will be a growing trend. I believe that voice dictation will be a major benefit both for regular users and users with physical disabilities.