I was an early adopter of the home version of voice recognition software Dragon Naturally Speaking - and an early detester of the program. I purchased one of the first versions in 1997 to help me work on my first book. To train the system to recognize your voice, you had to read multiple passages during setup, then you had to keep training as you tried to work. I say “tried” because most of my time was spent starting with half a sentence, seeing Dragon make an error, then repeating, “Delete that, change that, delete that,” until the program got it right. I gave up on Dragon within a month after I spent an entire Saturday morning determined to make it work and ended up hoarse, angry and fed up.
Flash forward almost 25 years, and we have Siri, a pleasantly perky voice recognition system built into the iPhone 4S. You can speak to Siri as if she’s a personal assistant or even a friend, and she translates commands and questions into actions easily and with amazing accuracy.
Siri is transforming the lives of smartphone users, with many late iPhone adopters finally taking the plunge and gleefully chatting with their phones, amazed at how far technology has come. But the late, great Steve Jobs is really not the first to transform the world of voice recognition and transcription software, and those of us who haven’t upgraded first have other options to take advantage of this advanced technology.
Three worthy voice recognition/transcription tools:
• Dragon Smartphone Apps (free): I gave Dragon Naturally Speaking a skeptical second chance when it released Dragon Dictation for iPhones. This free app lets me quickly dictate a text message or even a whole email that I can send with just a couple of clicks. Gone are the days of training a system to understand one particular voice; Dragon Dictation is amazingly accurate and easy to use.
Now Dragon has released "Dragon Go!," also free. Dragon Go! looks to be a direct competitor to Siri, allowing you to use natural speech patterns to search for sushi restaurants near you or directions to the football stadium.
• Vonage phone service ($25.99/month): When I switched from my landline to Vonage, I was pleasantly surprised by a new feature - call transcription. Every message is transcribed and emailed, so I rarely have to listen to recordings. I’d say the transcriptions are about 75% accurate, but that’s usually enough to help me understand the gist and get back to the caller.
• Livescribe Smartpens (from $99): A Livescribe Smartpen is actually not a speech-to-text tool, but it’s a technological marvel nonetheless. Use the Smartpen to record audio while you take handwritten notes, and the two are forever linked to capture all the important parts of a meeting. Additional software allows you to convert your handwritten notes to typed text. Many users are asking for the speech-to-text tool, so I would expect that company to develop something reliable soon. For now, they recommend Dragon Naturally Speaking – as do I.
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