Computers are growing ears
New software means you can speak rather than type a letter, reports GREG GORDONIF YOU buy a word processor next year, chances are it will be able to "listen" to you.
Major software manufacturers will incorporate speech recognition ability into their products in 1999.
Already Corel incorporates Dragon Naturally Speaking into its WordPerfect Office suite and the next version of Lotus SmartSuite will include IBM's Via Voice software.
The word is that Microsoft will include similar technology in its Office 2000 suite due for release next year.
As many people cannot type, software companies have been trying for decades to get computers to understand the spoken word.
They are starting to get it right. IBM and Dragon both released voice recognition software that runs on a standard PC and does a pretty good job of translating speech into text. Now the software is being incorporated into standard applications like office suites at no extra charge.
Earlier experiments had been disappointing, with what was called discrete speech requiring users to pause between words.
There are about a million users of speech recognition products and the number is expected to swell. and continue growing exponentially.
Only 15 percent of PC users have learned to type. Of the rest, almost none can type faster than 35 words a minute. New software is able to capture words at a speed of between 125 and 140 words a minute.
Even if the software performs at half its claimed speed, most users will still be able to get words into their PCs at twice the speed they can type.
David de Jong, the managing director of MMW Systems, says computer hardware has not been powerful enough to cope with voice recognition software, which requires at least a Pentium 133 with 32MB of RAM.
"We are looking at accuracy levels of above 95 percent," he says, adding that users could be "anyone from kids to executives as well as the disabled who, historically, have not been able to use computers because of physical limitations".
De Jong says speech recognition won't mean the demise of secretaries, but it might mean that their responsibilities will shift.
"It will free them to do other duties," he says. Top of page