December 12, 2012
Speech Recognition Technology in the Office: You Go First
By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Do you talk to your smartphone? If you are an iPhone (News - Alert) owner, you may have become accustomed to having Siri, the built-in personal assistant, at your side, obeying your voice commands. “Text Bob, Siri” or “Set up a meeting for Monday at 2:00, Siri” may be part of your vocabulary today when you’re in a mobile mode. In fact, so many people engage their mobile devices with voice today, it’s likely that a time traveler from just 30 years ago would have thought we were all insane, carrying on peculiar conversations with the tiny, shiny tablets we carry.
Thanks to technologies from companies such as Nuance, Microsoft (News - Alert), Apple and IBM, all of which have built (or bought) language databases for their speech-recognition products, the place where voice recognition and artificial intelligence is now in our pocket or handbag.
But what about when you’re sitting at your desk, engaging with your desktop or your laptop?
This is one place where advanced speech recognition has really failed to manifest. According to Computerworld’s John Brandon, the technology is there, built into a number of popular desktop computers, but we’re simply not using it very much. (You may not even know your computer has the feature, unless you’ve just had a severe bout of carpal tunnel syndrome flare up, or you are visually impaired.) The only bright spot in the PC voice recognition industry is Nuance’s (News - Alert) Dragon Naturally Speaking product, which has found a commercial niche with people who dislike typing.
Once upon a time, the hitch in adopting speech recognition solutions in the office might have been background noise: earlier versions of the technology would undoubtedly have had trouble separating the user’s voice from background noise. Today’s noise cancelling headsets, however, have largely taken care of that problem.
So what’s the hold up? Why aren’t more people conversing with their PCs or laptops?
According to Brandon, the issue is self-consciousness. Just as no one likes to be the first to get up and sing karaoke or read a poem, no one wants to be the first one in the office to start voicing his daily work routine where others can hear it. (Not to mention, most people would presume they are annoying their co-workers.)
Perhaps we still need to get used to the idea, or perhaps speech interaction needs that one “killer app” to help it go mainstream. (Video gaming comes to mind as a potential candidate.) Perhaps by the time today’s high school and college students reach the workforce, speech interaction with computers will become such an everyday event that these workers will marvel how anyone communicated without it.
One thing is certain: in the not so distant future, typing will become a curious, outdated skill somewhere on par with taking dictation via shorthand.
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