VOICE RECOGNITION IMPROVES, SORT OF

If you’ve ever called for airline reservations, you’ve dealt with voice recognition software. A robotic voiceDragon Naturally Speaking asks you if you want “reservations” or “flight status.” If you say “Cheeseburger,” the robot says, “Sorry, I didn’t get that.”

You can have this kind of fun on a regular basis, with your own voice recognition software. Theoretically, it can save you the trouble of typing. You just dictate what you want written. This is particularly handy if your typing speed is somewhere near the national average, 40 words per minute.

The leader in this field is Dragon Naturally Speaking, from Nuance.com, which can transcribe 160 words a minute. We wrote about the very first version back in 1991. It’s come a long way, baby, but it’s still wearing short pants. By that, we mean that some things are still annoying.

The program came with a headset and microphone that didn’t work with our Hewlett Packard computer. It didn’t recognize the sound card. This is the most common brand in the world; the sticker on the front says “more than 50 million PCs sold.” We had to buy a USB microphone instead, which bypasses HP’s sound card.

Though the program claims a 20 percent accuracy improvement over the previous version, Joy’s test, even after a 15-minute training period, produced an error rate of 10 percent or one in every ten words. “Lamp” got translated as “land.” “From that I gather” became “Fanatic gather.” But on the fourth try, the program only missed one word in 184.

We were impressed with the new time-saving steps built into the professional version of the program, but this costs $900, compared with only $100 for the standard version. If you want to email “Fred,” for example just say: “Email Fred.” Then start talking. The professional program then fills in Fred’s address and puts your next words into the subject line of the email. When you’re ready for the body of the message, you say “body field.” You can do something similar to schedule a meeting, and it will open your calendar program and fill in the details. But it only works with programs like Microsoft Outlook, not web-based email and calendars from Yahoo or Gmail.

If you want to see a map for a location, speak that location: “search maps for Harvard Museum.” You would give similar commands to search for photos, videos, shops, etc. The program will also accept leading web site names. So you can say: “Search YouTube,” or “Search eBay,” and so on.

Finally, you can have voice recognition software for free if you use Windows Vista. It has a terrific tutorial, which we found easier than learning Dragon. Though Vista made more mistakes than Dragon, the mistakes were much easier to correct with voice commands, and without any practice.

For a “BlogTalkRadio” interview with Bob and Joy, click here:

(Note: Bob and Joy arrive about 7 minutes after the show starts)

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