SHHHH! Be careful what you say. Your gadgets are listening. Many now have built-in voice recognition. Every time I switch my laptop on, a tiny picture of a microphone appears expectantly at the top of the screen. It’s LISTENING. It’s kinda creepy to be honest.
I called an expert who told me that my Windows speech-to-text function was coming on automatically.
“To stop it, wait five seconds after the computer has fully booted up, say ‘STOP LISTENING’, then turn around three times and make the sign of the cross,” he told me.
He also told me to face the fact that the day of talking to machines has arrived.
So, advised by commentators, I bought a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking, the world’s top-selling voice recognition software.
“Good morning,” I said to the screen.
The words “Good morning” appeared instantly.
I tried a more complicated sentence. “My name is Lorenzo Ignatius Linguine Chicken Tikka Masala Pong.”
Again, the sentence appeared perfectly!
Impressed, I decided I would dictate a novel direct to the screen.
The first paragraph or two appeared just fine.
But then I ran into trouble.
Instead of: “Before his last drink” a similar-sounding phrase appeared: “Be forest our stringed”.
According to the instructions, you say “undo that” to make corrections.
But doing that just added the words “undo that” to the sentence.
I spoke the other corrective phrases from the instruction book: “Delete” and “Backspace”, but the same thing happened.
I ended with a sentence that said:
“Be forest our stringed undo that undo that delete delete backspace backspace backspace O bother stop it stop it stop it @#$%^ I give up.”
My colleagues, reading over my shoulder, told me that it was the most interesting sentence I had ever written and I should send it to my publisher immediately.
RESEARCH REVEALS that the biggest buyers of this program are doctors, since “having illegible handwriting” is the most important requirement for entering that trade.
This has always worried me. If doctors can’t control their fingers well enough to write the letters of the alphabet, why do they think it’s okay to insert knives into my body cavities and play around with my arteries, veins, discharge valves, etc?
Several doctors grumbled on the Internet about computer dictation problems. One said he dictated: "Bilateral breast augmentations" but the computer typed: "Bilateral breast amputations"—which is the opposite, if you think about it.
Three other real-life foul-ups physicians report:
1) The doctor said:
"When the neck pain worsened, she went to a chiropractor."
The computer typed:
"When the neck pain worsened, she went to a car repair."
2) The doctor said:
“On re-evaluation, pain is better.”
The computer wrote:
“On re-evaluation, anus better.”
3) The doctor said:
“She has Ambien to help her sleep."
The computer wrote:
"She has Indians to help her sleep."
If anyone’s interested in seeing exactly how it works, I actually videoed five minutes of me dictating fiction to the computer do you can see it in action. My verdict: Dragon varies from being utterly brilliant to being utterly baffling. I went back to writing novels using my fingers. But (to use a phrase beloved by politicians) I don’t rule out going back to Dragon when RSI (repetitive strain injury) starts to bite.
Has anyone else tried this program or similar ones?
I do feel it’s inevitable that one day I will dictate this entire column and you won’t even lotus undo that undo that delete delete backspace backspace oh bother stop stop STOP