Let’s talk about natural language recognition. I am a personal productivity freak. As someone doing business I value my time very much. However, whereas posting articles on this blog for instance may appear as a waste of time to many, to me it doesn’t. But I admit to it, I have a secret; and soon you will understand why it takes you more time to read what I write than it takes me to write it. One could call it witchcraft, but it’s not, it’s just about using information technology properly. And when this technology is awesome, I admit I don’t even have much merit.
Dragon takes natural language recognition to new high
As the late PARC’s Mark Weiser once remarked (see here), writing is the best technology ever invented since it works everywhere, it’s always available and we have become so used to it, it’s become entirely natural. There is one technology that is even better than writing though. It’s good old language. Language is indeed even better than writing, you don’t even need a pen to express yourself or exchange ideas.
And this is what I am doing now.
I discovered Dragon NaturallySpeaking while going to my doctor six years ago. I was really flabbergasted. I had tested it before (or maybe it was IBM’s look alike Viavoice software rather) but it was the first time that I could see it work in real-time in front of my eyes.
The GP was actually talking to his computer and then the programme was interpreting what the GP was saying and transcribing it in writing on the computer. And when I saw that I thought that Dragon NaturallySpeaking was really it and I tried it a few times subsequently.
The first versions were somewhat quirky though, and it took quite a long time for Dragon to get used to your voice and accent. Now it doesn’t anymore. The new version (version 9preferred, which is bilingual by the way) is actually quite fast. It won’t take you more than a few minutes to train the machine to to understand you and take a print of your voice. The programme even understands formatting comments such as “next line” or “full stop”. It can spell words and one can also train the machine to understand special vocabulary and even buzzwords.
All that is very nice but not very new and I know quite a few people who are using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The reason why I started using it extensively, is because of repetitive stress injury (RSI) RSI is what happens when you use too much your computer, and God knows this has been the case for me in the past 20 years.
I needed to do something, in order to reduce repetitive stress injury and also improve my productivity as well as my quality of life. Spending your life in front of the computer tip tapping away is really not my kind of picnic. And I had come to think that I had had enough of this already, and that I needed a change.
And here comes naturally Dragon NaturallySpeaking version nine preferred mobile.
At first I bought the package without really understanding what I would do with it I thought that the idea of having a digital voice recorder (that’s the reason for naming the package “mobile”), would be a good idea, since I use it most of the time to carry out interviews and record them.
Now the fact is that this voice recorder has practically not left my bag since the day I bought it. It’s become my everyday companion. Any time I have an idea, instead of jotting it down to paper, I start speaking into my voice recorder, and then when I get back to the office I start loading it into my computer transfer my voice files, and let Dragon crunch the files and transcribe them automatically.
So that was my little secret revealed. Any time I want to write an article on his blog and post it, I don’t write it, I dictate it. And this is not just useful for blogs, it is useful for reports, memos, letters, e-mails, etc.
It is a new way of life. I can’t describe how my business life has changed since I bought this little contraption. It is absolutely amazing, not just from a technological point of view, but from a usage point of view and from a lifestyle point of view.
Natural language recognition saved me from RSI
It seems like I’m becoming human again. Having a keyboard as an extension of your fingers is hardly anything I wish on anybody. Keyboards are unnatural, they hurt your fingers, your tendons and your wrists. And eventually, looking at a screen all the time is not going to do anything for your eyes. Using this little contraption and its associated PC programme, I can actually concentrate on what I am saying and the content itself as opposed to the technology which is used to generate it.
And I haven’t talked about translation yet. Forget about Altavista BabelFish, Systran, and the like, human translation has never been rivalled by machines and probably never will. Automatic translation algorithms are only good enough to translate texts which otherwise you wouldn’t understand at all (the reason being that languages cannot be translated literally and that human interpretation is key in translation).
When I have a text which I want to translate into French, or vice versa, I’d do it on the fly on the voice recorder and using Dragon, I then transcribe it onto the PC. The increase in personal productivity is just enormous.
So if I describe my personal toolkit for productivity, I use an HTC advantage 7500 to take notes using natural handwriting recognition, which is amazing to speed up note-taking. But I also use a pen and paper and then dictate the notes into my voice recorder and translate them into a typed document through Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
If I have had to evaluate how much time time gain through this process of using natural handwriting recognition and natural voice recognition, I would tentatively say that I can do three or four times as much work as I would with just a keyboard and a PC. Besides, the result is a lot better.
I can concentrate on the content, forget about technology, and technology becomes an extension, a mere tool to do the job. And this is where technology fits best. If I had to sum up what Dragon NaturallySpeaking is bringing to my professional life, I would say that it is the epitome of the technology which makes you forget about technology. And getting back to Mark Weiser’s point, is what we think is the ultimate goal of technology.