Voice Recognition – Your Mac Can And Will Listen To You

Voice recognition is the future, and it’s available to you now for your PC or Mac. You may have noticed that you’ve been increasingly interacting with computer voices on the phone. The 800 number directory answers exclusively with a computer, that will probably find a number for you. Only if the search is unsuccessful will a “live person” come on the line. Same holds true for airlines, Apple, the phone company, and countless other commercial enterprises. The first to answer is the computer. It’s efficient. It (usually) cuts down on hold time, and, most importantly, overhead.

The individuals who can benefit most from this technology though are those who are unwilling or unable to type. Many folks with physical impairments have been using voice recognition for years. But only recently has the technology reached the level of accuracy and reliability to make it desirable and even practical to the average person.

The technology was first developed back in the 50s, when the growing market for automation of the document transcription process was recognized. The market then was principally doctors and lawyers. In fact, both groups remain the target market today. The good news is that the rest of us who never got around to learning how to type can finally take advantage of this technology. Systems that once cost thousands of dollars have been boiled down to a complete software package that runs just under $200.

While the “smart home” is beyond the scope of this entry, the off-the-shelf computer can also easily run a home –monitoring temperature, security, lighting, music, faxes, voice mail, etc. Several macitwork clients have trained their Macs (or PCs) to understand them. They’ve written books, articles, case studies, email and more, just using a headset microphone, the proper software and their computer. Those afflicted with severe arthritis (or some other ailment that makes typing virtually impossible) can finally write again –thanks to voice recognition software.

As always, there are limitations. Due to unrealistic expectations, or perhaps a misunderstanding of how the software works, some buyers of voice recognition software expect it to work right out of the box. Voice recognition is not ‘plug and play’. It requires not only training of the computer, but especially, the user.

Some students will rush to purchase the software, and install it on their laptop with great anticipation. Armed with a microphone and the laptop at their next class or lecture, the student expects the computer to replace note-taking. The the computer is to immediately transcribe what the teacher is saying. CEOs have a similar misguided expectations(probably due to the marketing genius of the software manufacturers). We’ve seen corporate board rooms set up (they think) to record and transcribe conference calls on-the-fly. Again, the software was installed, the microphone was set near the speakerphone, and the computer was turned on. This was the equivalent of buying the ingredients of a recipe for the kitchen, putting everything on the counter, and turning the stove on. Nothing happens.

Alas, voice recognition doesn’t work that way either. One can’t just load the software into the computer, attach a microphone and expect the computer to understand any speech it hears. Most speech recognition is limited to one user profile. That is, once the software is installed, the person who will be using it will have to create a voice profile, reading text into the machine so that the machine can reference THAT voice pattern against it’s dictionary of words. We all have different accents, inflections, etc.

If a person is willing to train a computer (and himself or herself) properly, voice recognition can work wonders. Depending on the software and system you use, it takes some effort. Most clients we’ve encountered with a voice recognition set up purchased it some time ago. It often turns out they gave up after just a few attempts at using it. Those those who had even just a minimum of training, however, realized an enormous gain in accuracy and usability.

So who makes this fabulous software, and where can you get it? Tune in to the next entry, and we’ll give you the low-down on what works, and what doesn’t.