Voice Recognition Lets Users Speak Up
April 25, 2012

Voice Recognition Saves The Day!

Peter Suciu

There is an old saying that “you don't know what you lost until you no longer have it.” Certainly, anyone who was able to type with great proficiency and suddenly found themselves unable to do so could relate to that saying.

The ability to type has become somewhat paramount in our digital world, and for those who spend their days in front of a computer, being able to use both hands on the keyboard is practically a necessity. This reporter took this for granted until about a month ago, when I decided to play soccer with some Europeans. I was having fun, but as another saying goes, “It´s fun until someone gets hurt.”

I didn't just get hurt; I broke four fingers on my left hand. I've been reminded numerous times that I should be grateful because I'm right handed, but that is of little relief given that I spend my days typing. As with many aging GenX-ers I have atrocious handwriting, and many a teacher called it chicken scratch. However, since my junior high school days I have known how to type.

The hunt and peck method of typing has never worked for me, and perhaps because I spent so much time in front of my keyboard I can envision the QWERTY layout when I close my eyes. While many students taking their first typing class may bemoan the layout, I am one who says kudos to Christopher Latham Sholes - the newspaperman who came up with the idea of a multi-row keyboard. Of course it was actually E. Remington & Sons who created the beloved/bemoaned QWERTY - and yes that Remington went on to become a gun manufacturer.

I am now continuing to do my job as a writer, both by typing one-handed and with the help of voice recognition software. Over the past decade I've given these a try, not because I was looking for an alternative to typing, but really as a way to help transcribe some interviews. In fact, I have found that it is easier to simply listen to an interview I may have conducted and type it out. This resulted in less mistakes, and made for less work.

After my injury, I needed to give voice recognition software another go. Windows 7 has a built-in speech recognition program, which can be used via the Ease of Access options. I found it to work reasonably well, but this really doesn't seem as if it is meant to be a tool for creating Word documents. Instead it is meant as an alternative to using the mouse and keyboard. Windows 7 voice recognition is of course compatible with Microsoft Word, but seems to miss some of the nuances and had difficulty understanding what I was saying.

Instead, I turned to Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which is now in version 11.5. This software from Nuance is available for businesses, healthcare providers and individuals. As with the built-in Windows 7 voice recognition software, it requires a bit of training for the program to understand the speaker's voice, annunciation and even accent. The program only understands the words being said, not the context. This makes it difficult when saying words such as “there/their” and “it´s/its.” Thus proofing becomes all the more important.

In my particular case, I'm able to actually use both hands, albeit somewhat limited. So I can copy and paste, use the mouse with my right hand and of course do one-handed typing to correct mistakes. Here is where I am grateful, because I don't have to rely on the programs to completely replace or replicate the input from a mouse and keyboard.

It has also made me consider whether we would ever see a day when the mouse and keyboard actually disappear. While this has happened somewhat with the introduction of tablets, those devices actually rely more on the touch interface. Thus the idea of voice control remains one of science fiction.

It actually reminds me of the humorous scene from the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), where Mr. Scott tries to “talk” to a computer and is told to just use the keyboard to which he replies, “Keyboard. How quaint.

In actuality, the keyboard could be quaint, but not because of voice recognition software. Instead, a generation that has grown up with mobile phones can input at incredible speeds just with their thumbs - one reason not to bemoan texting.

And while some schools - such as those in Indiana - have spelled the end of the line for cursive, or script, and no longer are taking the time to teach this hand writing method, it is unlikely that the keyboard will ever truly go away. Voice-recognition software maybe a way to help with input, and is a way to draft documents, but a mouse and keyboard will still be a more robust.

Finally, for me the good news is that fingers heal fast, and typing is a great form of physical therapy.