LAW OFFICE COMPUTING
Usable Voice Recognition Technology Arrives
Five years ago at the State Bar Convention we demonstrated a voice recognition system that had been used by one of my former partners for about a year. He demonstrated the way that voice commands could be used to control a computer system and do simple dictation. The dictation module left a lot to be desired but, all in all, it was an impressive demonstration that indicated a future for broader voice recognition technology. Until Dragon Systems brought NaturallySpeaking to market a few years ago, actual functional voice recognition technology was an elusive dream. With introduction of the voice recognition system built into Windows XP dictating to your computer has become quite easy. All it takes is a bit of time to train the system to understand your voice.
You may have noticed that when you call Telephone Information in various major cities you are first plugged into a voice recognition system. If the computer can recognize the name of the person you are trying to contact the system works reasonably well. If the system does not recognize the name, however, it becomes difficult to deal with. That is caused in part by the difficulty of understanding words in different accents and tones of voice. The vocabulary necessary to run a telephone directory system, however, is relatively small and the computer is able to guess at the name and get it right a good part of the time. That is not so when you are dictating sentences using a vocabulary of 30,000 or more words. Here the complexity is enormously multiplied and the possibility for error is extremely high. Two of the most popular ways of dealing with that problem made voice recognition difficult and unpleasant in the context of dictation. The first was the necessity to use what is called "discrete" speech and the second is the necessity to train the system to recognize your voice. Discrete speech is the careful enunciation of each word in a staccato style. It is easy to do for a short period of time but once you get involved in dictation and you are starting to think about what you are saying it becomes harder and harder to do. And, as a result, the error rate increases dramatically. One way of dealing with that error rate poses the second major problem that the older voice recognition systems had. If you talk long enough to a computer and you constantly tell it when it makes a mistake it will eventually build a pretty reasonable capability for recognizing your voice. The problem is that this training may take many hours or days and is incredibly boring. Even then the number of errors in the older systems was so high that there was no real time saving. Of course, people with disabilities or severely challenged typing were willing to put up with that. The vast majority of people, however, required a much more comfortable and natural system and that is what Dragon systems has produced. NaturallySpeaking is very easy to use, does not require discrete speech and does not require extensive "training" in order to recognize your voice. I installed the program on my computer in just a few minutes. It took about 20 minutes to do the initial training so that within a half an hour, I was dictating comfortably and with high accuracy to my computer screen. The Dragon †NaturallySpeaking system, comes with a high-quality microphone and the software program installed on a CD-ROM. You can buy the Dragon software bundled with WordPerfect Office 2000 for about $50. I have found that version bundled with WP Office 2000 actually works better than the system you might buy at a computer store for a lot more. And, donít even think about buying the new Naturally Speaking Legal Version which sells for $750-1000, as does the Medical version! What ever bells and whistles those versions may have it is not worth price. I actually think they are trying to rip off† folks who they believe, incorrectly, will not be put off by the price.
The new MS Office XP Professional has a built-in voice recognition system that works in the same way under Word XP. I had a similar experience with Word XP and in fact that is now my system of choice. It will not work as well as Naturally Speaking straight out of the box but I have found that if you devote a few hours to training it for your voice it is really very good.
I have noticed some interesting aspects of use of the voice recognition systems. I have always been a pretty good user of the dictating machine -- able to produce sensible prose in rough draft form pretty quickly. But my dictating sufferers from my deteriorating memory and I often cannot remember what I said several paragraphs before. I am often not at all sure that I included a particular point that I wanted to make and so sometimes my dictating is fairly scrambled and repetitive. Being able to dictate to the computer and see the text come up on the screen really overcomes that problem. It is easy to read what you have written and to move comfortably into the next topic. If you are one of those people, as am I, who laborers mightily over word choice and style, dictating directly to the computer is a gift from heaven.
The future of voice recognition is very bright. Imagine, if you will, a system that translates English into a different language. That dream seemed beyond reach only a few years ago. It is now certain to be reality in the not far distant future. The IT revolution is just begining, folks!!
PS: I made an error in the column on remote filing. WordPerfect will produce Adobe Acrobat Portable Document files without any extra software. I said that Word XP would do the same and I was wrong. In order for Word to produce a .pdf file it needs additional software such as PDF995 which is free over the Internet. ( http://www.pdf995.com/). Other more robust programs are available (http://www.win2pdf.com/) at reasonable prices.