TALKING TO YOUR COMPUTER

Computers that understand human speech are a staple of science fiction movies and TV shows, but in the real world they can’t understand a word you say.

Dragon Naturally Speaking (www.nuance.com) has been burning a path Dragon Naturally Speaking 9through this fog for many years now, and each version gets a little better. The latest one is version 9.

The promotional literature claims you don’t have to train it to recognize your individual voice anymore, and we found that to be true. But it does help to train it (even though Bob once worked as a radio announcer). Once we did that — and it wasn’t hard or lengthy — the program worked surprisingly well; in fact, it’s easily the best yet.

You still have to speak slowly and distinctly, and it doesn’t understand punctuation very well. For instance, if you say “period,” the program will insert a period. If you want to talk about a particular period, like the Renaissance, you’ll have to train the program to recognize the phrase.

You only get one free tech support call. After that, phone support is $20 per incident, and e-mail support is $10 per incident. We used up our free call during installation when the program had a conflict with our Sony Ericcson phone software.

The truth is, speech recognition for the personal computer is still a work in progress. But progress is being made. List price is $200 for the “preferred” version and $100 for the “standard.” It used to be around $600 when it first came out. A headset with microphone is included in both packages.

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