The High Tech Office: Computers that listen when you
Dec 16 1997
by Alan Zisman
Despite all the changes in office technology, most of
the time, most
of the data that most of us input into our computers comes from the
of our fingers, on our keyboards. Mice, glidepads, trackballs and the
are great for pointing and clicking, but simply aren?t an option for
that report into print.
And that keyboard-dependence is one of the big
obstacles in the way
of getting more people to use computers. By now, most of the people who
are comfortable typing on the job already have a computer on their
But if you can?t or won?t type? Maybe you aren?t physically able to
with a keyboard. Or maybe your job requires you to have things in your
hand (radiologists, for example, scanning x-rays). Or maybe you entered
the workforce at a time when the expectation was that management
learn to type?that?s what clerical staff are for.
Well, there?s typing tutor software, to get users over
hump. Effective products such as ?All the Right Type?, though that
Burnaby distributor, VR-Didatech aims it primarily at the education
Or pen input?a few years ago, heralded as ?the next
big thing?, but
now, despite big improvements over early efforts that made it the butt
of a week of Doonesbury episodes, it?s settled into a small niche.
Many of us have been waiting for effective voice
recognition, as a way
to lose those calluses on our fingertips. There?s been voice
software for some time?IBM, for example, has been working in the field
for over two decades. First attempts, however, required expensive
dedicated systems. And like the problems trying to make sense of our
different handwriting styles, our manners of speaking are often
for any hardworking computer.
Until recently, voice recognition software required
A few years ago, I looked at IBM?s Voice-Type Dictation? it demanded
speech, and came with an add-in card, to beef up the computers of the
It worked as advertised, but was too expensive and too awkward to use
gain widespread acceptance.
Since then, affordable computer power has made speech
practical?and more affordable. The latest generation of products, such
as IBM?s ViaVoice ($159), breaks through the earlier products
No add-in card required, though you do need relatively hefty, modern
an MMX Pentium 150 or better, with 32 megs of ram, and about 100 megs
free drive space. A sound card, and a CD-ROM drive. A headset
is included in the box.
And no more artificial pauses. ViaVoice promises
support for continuous
speech? speak in a moderate, conversational tone.
For best results, some training is needed. There are
of what IBM refers to as ?enrollment??the more time you spend letting
software get used to your mannerisms of speaking, the more accurate it
will be. A minimal level takes just a few minutes, but for better
be prepared to spend up to an hour or so reading as many as 265
a ghost story written by Mark Twain. Then leave your computer alone for
about an hour, to think things over.
Afterwards, it?s ready to take a letter. A simple word
SpeakPad, is included, and if desired, dictation support can be added
Microsoft Word (versions 6, 7, or 97). Click on the Begin Dictation
item, and start speaking into the microphone. If the program makes
double-clicking on the word brings up a correction menu, and lets
learn better how to work with your voice.
Multiple users are supported?each will need to go
through the enrollment
process. The process isn?t perfect, however. Take a look at the opening
sentence in this column again. When I dictated it, here?s what appeared
on the screen: ?spinal the changes and computing most of the time most
of the David that most of as input into arms she comes from working in
tips on the people.?
Oh well? I only just installed it this morning. I
guess I?ve got to
speak a bit more clearly, and keep on training with the software.
In fact, when I tried that first sentence again, it
came out: ?Despite
all the changes in office technology, most of the time, most of the
that most of this input into or computers, the tip of our fingers,on
keyboards .? Still not perfect, but better. I suspect the software is
me as much as I?m training the software. The concept of being able to
to our computers is so promising, and ViaVoice seems so close to making
it happen, that it seems worth the effort to persevere.