Dictation Software and Some History

This post and others like it relate back to an introductory post that explains the point. This is an edited variant of something I wrote in 2007, in this case relating my experience and much associated history with dictation/voice recognition products. In no particular order, the list as best I can remember…

Dragon Naturally Speaking
IBM Via Voice
L&H Voice Express
Phillips handheld dictation/transcription software

There may have been other software that would fit this category, but these are the big three voice recognition products, plus the one digital device and its associated software I supported.

Voice recognition software is of special interest to me dating back to 1984 or 1985. For my major we had to take two computer science classes, plus a “data processing” class that fell under the Management Science department rather than the Math department. At the time, the class was a relatively basic “all about computers.” Which was pretty weird, because most management students were taking a very similar computer class offered just for them by the computer science people, then taking BASIC. A semester or two after I took it, they got PCs, courtesy of a donation from Shaw’s Supermarkets in thanks for a big study done for them by the marketing students, and the class changed completely. They taught segments on Lotus 1-2-3, some word processor, I believe some other packaged software, and some elementary RPG (Report Program Generator) stuff. Which I might not have known, but I actually helped a couple of classmates with their work for that class, even though I had never taken it or learned the stuff myself. Classic me. When I took the class, we had a great professor named George Ladino, who not long after left to work in “high tech.” Which seemed to me the thing I might want to do, but I thought I’d always be behind the curve and never have adequate qualifications, connections or whatever. Heh.

Given my terror of speaking before a group such as a class, it is particularly notable that he required us each to do a presentation to the class on an assigned topic. Mine was voice recognition. After all, computers were getting all advanced and stuff by then, so why should Scotty have to settle for quaintly typing. Talking your computer down from the ledge had to be right around the corner.

That was how I learned about Ray Kurzweil, the work he was doing, along with the work IBM was doing, and how tricky an exercise it was. The fascinating subject helped ease the pain of public speaking, to the extent that was possible.

Flash forward to 1998. Well, sometime before then, really, when I first saw Dragon being promoted at computer shows and thought here was the eventual result of all that early work on voice recognition. In 1998, though, when we first connected with the big client, they’d been dabbling with voice software. Several of the attorneys had Pentium 200 machines, for which they’d seriously overpaid, with Windows 95 and awful no-name sound cards, on the idea they would dictate using IBM Via Voice. Between the hardware, the state of the software at the time, and the natural dragging of heels that never stopped, that didn’t go over so well.

They were still interested in the idea. At least, the more tech savvy people were. The owner, who had been partially behind the original push and dreamed of paperlessness from way back, before it was remotely as possible as now, had mixed feelings about the cost involved in getting even a part of his vision.

In early 1999, we purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred 3.0, and the corresponding current versions of IBM Via Voice and Lernout & Hauspie Voice Express. We and a couple of the lawyers tested them. Dragon won, no contest. It wasn’t even close. As I recall, IBM was the next best option. Varying numbers of people used Dragon ever since, and unlike some software, most updates were worth buying. It actually required minimal support. Usually the problem is that sound quality goes astray. There are ways to test, and only so many things it can be. Headsets and microphones die or get frayed cables. Sound cards die, if rarely, and these days the sound is usually integrated into the motherboard and is both adequate and stable. User profiles get corrupt and new ones have to be created, much as it sucks to lose all the training you’ve done. That kind of thing. Windows Sound Recorder can give an idea how the hardware is working. It’s so big now that installation can be fun, and the hardware needs are great. Dragon 9.0 wouldn’t run on Vista, so you had to download a major update. That’s how I came to support Vista without having actually used it myself yet. My days of supporting it ended before newer versions of Windows, and of course now people can speak to their phones, voice recognition and hardware have come that far.

Next up will be communications, internet, PDA and blogging.

This entry was posted in Experience, Hardware, Skills, Software. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.