Adventures in Speech Recognition

What you’re reading right now is not so much a blog post as it is a transcript of a speech I’m giving across the room from my computer right now. Let me explain.

Speech-to-text has been around for 20 years. It is the technology that allows a computer or other input device to hear the spoken word and transcribe it into print. I experimented in the 90s with early stabs at speech-to-text with products like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and IBM ViaVoice. Both of those products made far too many errors for my taste. I quickly returned to typing, something I’ve very good at.

Way back in 1965, I took Miss Paris’ 10th grade Touch Typing class. For decades I have maintained that typing was one of the most important things I learned in high school. Today I type almost as fast as I can think, which is one of the reasons writing is easy for me. But now, technology has taken us beyond printing, beyond cursive, beyond even typing. We are rapidly approaching the point where dictation will be our primary communication methodology.

Apple released Siri with great fanfare and the core of Apple users seemed to love that little bit of innovation (Ok, let’s be honest: they practically genuflected before their devices). But at virtually the same time, Google started really pushing speech to text. Initially I found voice command functionality to be very useful on my Google phone. When I needed to call someone I simply said “Call John Doe,” and Google would instantly dial that person.

But as text messaging begin to explode as a useful tool, I also started texting via speech. I’d push the microphone icon on the phone and speak the text I wanted to send. It’s not perfect – and I have to remember to proofread text before I push the send button – but it sure beats typing on a small screen.

More recently I’ve been using speech recognition in searches. On my smartphone, I just click the Google icon, say the magic words “Okay Google,” and then, whatever I’m looking for. Google responds with a voice greeting and then presents search results on the phone. I never have to type a thing.

Right now, I am creating this blog post in Google Docs , on my Google Drive, located somewhere up in the Cloud. I created a new document from my PC and gave it a name. Then I opened up the Google Drive icon on my smartphone, located the same document, opened it, pressed the microphone icon, and have been dictating this blog post ever since. As I speak into my smartphone from my easy chair across the room, I can see the words being typed in the document I have open on my computer. Best of all, it seems pretty accurate.

All this goes to say speech recognition and speech-to-text technology has come of age. We now really can interact with our various devices by just speaking to them. We’re a long way from the world of the movie ‘Her,’ but once again, technology has made a tedious task easier!

If you are a Google/Android person, try the following:

1.  Push the blue Google icon on your phone and say ‘Okay Google.’  When you hear the beep, speak a search string, something like ‘The Best Pizza in Milwaukee,’ and then see what happens.

2.  Start a text session with a friend.  When it’s your turn to respond, click the microphone icon located next to the text field and speak your message.  Be sure to proof it before sending.

3.  Download the free Google Drive app from the Google Play store to your phone and use it to open your Google Drive (you have one if you have a Gmail account – and the login credentials will be the same).  Open a new document but instead of typing it, click the microphone icon and speak it.  When you are done, open the same document in Google Drive from your desktop and edit it.

Really:  Try it!  You’ll like it!  And you’ll feel oh so up-to-date with technology!

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Speech Recognition”

  1. I agree speech recognition tech has come a long way. I know two gals that worked for lawyers in the 90’s who used Dragon for typing up their stuff but it was always the case that corrections would have to made; still, the product was useful.

    And I agree – I also consider typing to be one of the most important courses I took in high school (probably the most important.) And no one in that 1966 typing class will ever forget Mr. Johnson holding his bird finger up in the air and waving it around while explaining it’s use on the old timey typewriters we were using.

    One final word – I use Google Voice (it’s still free after all these years) and save money by doing so. Besides the fact that it is susceptible to random audio distortion due to overriding processing and/or network flow hits at any point between you and your connection, there is also an issue with their transcription of voicemails – it leaves a lot to be desired – I usually just listen instead of reading some of the hilarious translations their product comes up with when transcribing a message!

  2. I am so thankful that I took a half semester in an all girls typing class in the 10th grade. I think it gave me an advantage over the years with term papers, general writing and correspondence. I was a typing fanatic. My father bought me a green Olivetti. Thank goodness for white out strips. I venture to guess I did a little more than 100 words per minute after “graduating” from typing class. I just took a minute typing test and it’s down to 47. Jim, I think its time to take your recommendation. I’m going to miss the the deliberate sound and cadence of my fingers hitting the keys. That must be the drummer in me:-)

    1. Ha ha, Philby. There will always be opportunities to keep your typing skills in-tact. At our age, that constant finger motion is very important just to keep the old digits from seizing up and turning into fossils!

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