Pic of the day: How about people talking to their computer?
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10
Longtime readers will know that I have used Dragon NaturallySpeaking on and off (mostly off) for several years. I am pretty sure the first version I bought was 5, but that one was a disappointment. I believe I compared it to a drunk, homesick Asian high school exchange student. And that may have been magnanimous. Unless you were severely disabled, the program had only entertainment value. Even when reading an existing text, I would spend almost as much time correcting the errors as I would have spent typing the whole thing.
I did not try again until version 7 was out. At that time two things had changed: The program had gotten better (according to reviews), and my wrist had gotten worse. Around that time, I was seriously worried that I would have to quit my job and live on a disability pension for the rest of my life. That would certainly give me more time to write, but I wouldn't be able to without my wrist. Besides, it is kind of morally dubious to not work if you want to eat... if there is some way to keep working, that is. And that's where speech recognition comes in. It has helped a number of people who otherwise would have trouble staying employed. In my case, I never used it in my job, but I did use it at home. It was still not good, but it helped carry me through the periods when I couldn't type. (As for my job, I took some sick leaves too.)
The biggest improvement in the software happened from version 8 to 9, in my opinion and many others'. There was reportedly a 25% improvement in accuracy, and for the first time it was actually possible to dictate whole sentences before you had to correct anything. I still had problems, because I am not a native English speaker. Sometimes I just mispronounce words because while I have seen them often, I haven't heard them spoken, or almost never. My experience with the English language is mostly from reading, although we did learn the basics in school. And of course I have heard many English songs. Actually I have commented on this before, that I could sometimes get better results from Dragon NaturallySpeaking by singing than by talking. I am not sure if this is still so... there is no longer a need to.
So how is version 10? It is marketed as having three major improvements from the previous version: One, it is even more accurate, especially when dealing with accents. Two, it works right out of the box without training (although training is still available if you feel the need to improve your accuracy). Three, it requires only half as much processing power as the previous version, so it will run on slightly older machines and (more importantly) on a range of laptops. Unfortunately, it is still not compatible with Windows 64 bits Vista. For most potential buyers this is probably not a problem, since most versions of Vista are still 32 bits. But as the 64 bits version is the only one that can handle more than 3.25 GB of RAM, it is growing steadily more popular. I can only hope Nuance will upgrade the program to run with the newer operating system. After all, they did that with version 9, which didn't work with Vista at all. Nuance created version 9.5 and made it freely available to Vista users who had already bought version 9. I was one of those who took advantage of that offer.
So is Dragon NaturallySpeaking as good as it claims? I would say yes. Perhaps the difference will be less noticeable for native English speakers, but for me the increased accuracy has now passed a tipping point. The program still makes mistakes, but probably less than I do typing. From now on I shall simply have to consider what hurts most on any single day, my wrist of my throat. Each is an equally good way to communicate with my computer.
Nuance is almost certainly right that ordinary people can speak more than twice as fast as they can type. But I am not an ordinary person. I have been typing since I was six years old, and for the last 20 years or so I have been typing more than I have been talking. In fact, I have been talking very little at all for many years now. Talking feels... unnatural. It isn't the way I normally think. This is particularly so with fiction, since I would hesitate to actually lie to people out loud. (This probably deserves its own entry.)
As is good and proper, I have been dictating this entry in Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10. I have corrected the occasional error, and there are probably others left which I won't discover until next year, if I'm still around and reading my back entries as I use to. Perhaps more importantly, my throat is already sore. I have spoken more than I use to do over a day or three. I still hope you are impressed by this software. You should. It's like science fiction: I speak to the computer as easily and as casually as I would to a college-educated adult. I don't hesitate to say this: The Dragon has finally grown up.
Dictated with an expensive Plantronics headset.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.