The miracle of speech processing.

I feel as though I’ve discovered how to turn base metal into gold.

My wife, Annie, gave me a wonderful Christmas present in the shape of a days writing course in Oxford. It took place in the Oxford Union and was organised by the Writer’s Workshop under the guidance of author, Helena Drysdale. There were 11 of us in all. It’s the first writing course that I’ve ever taken part in and it was a terrific experience. I don’t particularly want to go into it in any detail here but it is certainly excited my interest in doing something similar again. Perhaps for a longer period next time.

One of the physical problems I have with writing is not being able to type properly. With me it’s a two-fingered job and that takes time and effort and invariably leads to a plethora of mistakes. It’s also frustrating because one can think much quicker than one is able to type using only two digits. I also like to do some of my writing in longhand. Don’t quite know why this is but there is something rather satisfying about seeing words flow from the end of the pen. I can certainly write quicker than I can type with two fingers. The problem remains that eventually I have to type up handwritten work and that is just a waste of time.

One of the writers on my course in Oxford was using a speech dictation program on his laptop and spoke about it with great enthusiasm. I wasn’t too sure whether it would work for me or indeed, whether the program would work at all. To my astonishment it does! This is being dictated to you courtesy of MacSpeech through the microphone of a head set and I promise you it’s making far less mistakes than I would be making if I were trying to type it at speed. It also has the advantage that one can do it from the comfort of a sofa.

The program was easy enough to set up. All I had to do was connect the microphone head set to a USB port, install and launch the program and then create a profile and start the training session. The program needs to learn about your voice before you start using it. This takes about five minutes and after that I was able to dictate into my word processing program and directly into e-mails and Facebook. It’s rather like having a new pet in the house and it does make mistakes but the program assures me that this will get better with time as it recognizes not only the timbre of my voice but also its idiosyncrasies. At the moment, I’m terribly pleased with it and feel as though a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Whether it’ll improve the content of my output remains to be seen but I can’t believe how good it is. I know other people have used similar technologies in the past and been disappointed with them but things move on and at the moment the program seems to be working remarkably well. I’m only mastering the rudiments of it, naturally but it does 101 things which I hope I’ll be able to use efficiently in the future. One neat trick, is that one can tell it, in the middle of a sentence, to go to, say, Google or Amazon  or a dictionary and it does it instantaneously. The one thing it doesn’t do, sadly, is feed the cat.

I’m also slightly concerned that the program might well develop a personality of its own which could be quite scary. Anyone who has seen Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001, will know what I mean.

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