in the "Voice Squad"
By Jim Bray
HAL 9000 computer from "2001: a space odyssey" isn't here yet,
but ever-improving generations of voice recognition software means it's
getting closer all the time.
software lets you control your computer by speaking into it, for a variety
of reasons. Depending on the package you use, you can do things like command
it to open and close programs, dial your telephone, or dictate straight
into your word processor.
More and more companies
are offering such tidbits. Microsoft's new 900
MHz cordless phone includes voice recognition that lets you do basic
functions like loading or closing programs and using the phone. I've been
trying out a couple of voice recognition "engines" and have
been quite impressed with what I've seen (or is it "said?").
Dragon Systems' "NaturallySpeaking"
can be purchased as a standalone product or as part of the Corel
WordPerfect 8 suite. I used the latter version, along with IMSI's
VoiceDirect Continuous Gold. Both products say they'll let you blather
on to your favourite Windows applications, including WordPerfect, MS
Office, Lotus Notes and/or SmartSuite and Eudora
Both products demand
fairly hefty hardware and a good chunk of hard drive space, though. The
Corel/Dragon thingy won't be happy with less than a Pentium 133 housing
48 Meg of RAM (64 for Windows NT) and a "typical" install swallows
up 180 Meg of hard drive space. IMSI's product wants a minimum of a Pentium
150 with MMX, 32 Meg of RAM for Windows 9x (48 for NT) and 125 Meg of
And don't forget a
microphone! So don't install this fancy stuff unless your system's up
After installing the
software you have to train it, a rather tedious process in which you read
a bunch of text into the computer. I preferred the DragonSystems' process
because it let me read an excerpt from Arthur C. Clarke's "3001:
the final odyssey," which seemed appropriate. Unfortunately, I was
getting interested in the story when "Draco" was satisfied that
it knew my voice. Now I have to get the novel to see how it ends
Once the programs
are trained, you have to train yourself: for word processing, for instance,
you need to speak all the punctuation marks you'd normally type, as well
as learning the commands for editing, error correction, etc. You're supposed
to be able to dictate up to a hundred sixty words per minute, and perhaps
you can once you and the software are intimate with each other's idiosyncrasies.
I found I had to speak quite deliberately, though, which slowed me down
so much that I could have typed the same stuff thrice in the time it took
to be a "virtual raconteur."
And even then the
software makes mistakes, some of which are hilarious. If you think spelling
checkers produce some howlers, wait till you see your spoken words! Despite
having reasonable diction (oops, the software heard that as "a reasonable
addiction"), I still had to speak much more carefully than I would
It's kind of like
talking to your kids, except that the computer at least pretends to listen...
In all, this is a
nifty way for non-typists, the handicapped, or professional dictators
(that's "people who dictate" as opposed to Saddam Hussein or
Jean Chretien) to operate a computer, but I don't think it's time to throw
away my keyboard yet.
Given the evolution
of these products, however, that day may be coming sooner than I had expected.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think