Keyboard survives to type another day as words sound better than they print

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2000, 12:00am

Someday you will be able to talk to your computer as easily as you talk to another person, and it will respond to your commands - and that day may be sooner than you think.

Voice recognition software has come a long way since the era of cumbersome microphones and word-mangling software.

What you are reading here was dictated over a microphone plugged into my home computer using the latest software from Dragon Systems - NaturallySpeaking V5.0.

Or rather, you are reading an edited rendition of what I dictated to my computer. The original version of this review was difficult to understand because of the errors NaturallySpeaking made.

Annoying inaccuracies turn people off voice-recognition software. But if you are patient, have a clear speaking voice and are willing to invest some time in learning how to talk to your computer, voice-recognition software can provide an interesting experience.

It has also developed a following among those who can no longer use a keyboard due to typing-related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

NaturallySpeaking is compatible with virtually any program in which you normally type, including Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, e-mail and chat programs.

It substitutes for a mouse and keyboard and allows you to write and format letters, spreadsheets and other documents.

Version 5.0 sells for about HK$1,500 and adds several new voice commands to browse the Web and manage e-mail navigation. Commands such as 'check for new mail', 'send e-mail', and 'reply to message' are supported.

The software comes prepared for five dialects and accents - US English, UK English, Australian English, Indian English, and Southeast Asian English. It also has different vocabularies and has special settings for adults and teenage users. The various settings make it easier for the program to recognise your voice and accurately record it.

Because no two people sound exactly alike, you need to train the software to recognise the voice of each user individually. It also helps to learn to speak slowly and clearly pronounce your words.

The software puts you through a five-minute tutorial where you are asked to read from a section of text.

Once you get going, dictating your thoughts is a breeze. As you speak the words into the provided hands-free headset, they appear on the screen. If you make errors you also can correct them by voice command.

To start a new paragraph, or add punctuation, just say the words. The package reviewed included a helpful list of quick-reference commands to cover all basics.

Dragon claims a 95 per cent accuracy rate, but after two weeks of use I found I could only reach that level of accuracy if I spoke very slowly. Experienced users report that they are able to reach dictation speeds of about 40 words per minute, when correction time is taken into account.

I am not quite ready to retire my keyboard, but the days of pounding on keys are clearly numbered.

Graphic: rev03gwz