Here are speech technology questions we get asked many times. They are listed in order of decreasing number of times asked. Click on each for the response.

Do I have to talk slowly to a computer?

Many people try to talk slowly or otherwise talk specially in order to get better accuracy. Generally this doesn't help. The more naturally you talk, as if you're talking or reading to a friend, the more likely will your accuracy be high. Often, it is better to speed up than slow down.
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Our firm uses a lot of specialized words of the trade. Will these products recognize those words?

Many of the trade words will be recognized. For words that are not recognized, most products have some mechanism for scanning written material for the remaining new words which are then added as a group into the program's vocabulary by a strictly software based operation. After scanning is complete, the words will be recognized. Words with unusual pronunciations may need individual training or tweaking. Vendors often have prepared specific trade vocabulary add-ons as well.
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Can I use speech recognition in an office with open cubicles?

There are three questions here: 1) is the cubicle environment too noisy for speech products? 2) will people in other cubes be bothered by my incessant yammering? 3) how do I preserve confidentiality when dictating sensitive memos if I'm speaking out loud to a computer? The answers are:

1) Maybe. You have to try it out.

2) Maybe. You have to try it out. We have had some success by doing initial training of the dictation products using desktop microphones at very close distances and speaking the training text in a near whisper voice tone. Accuracy is reasonable and people in other cubes are generally unaware of the dictation (they tune out your telephone calls, don't they?). Since vendors get points in the magazine reviews for accuracy, no product vendor will officially recommend this strategy, however.

3) You can't. Sorry.
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Which dictation product is the best?

It depends. Best for what? Each dictation product has its best points - and, by the way, that best point is always is not always recognition "accuracy. "

Although remarkable, currently all dictation products make some mistakes of recognition, and on the whole, aren't too far from one another in terms of absolute accuracy. So a more important consideration is how easy is it to make corrections of recognition errors. Ease of usage in other applications besides word-processing is also important. If you are programmer writing software that uses speech recognition engines, these same points apply. Telephony software developed in house, as distinct from dictation products, can pretty nearly be made as accurate as needed.

Contact us for the best points of the current products. If there is a general all around star, we'll say so.
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Can I run dictation products on a laptop computer?

That depends on the horsepower of the laptop and the quality of its microphone sound system. We currently recommend a minimum of 500 MHz processor and 256 megs of RAM. More speed and RAM is better still, especially if you run several programs concurrently with the speech program. We certainly have run dictation software on less powerful laptops as an experiment, but the slowness of response can make the experience unsatisfactory.

The cramped quarters of the physical layout of the laptop can sometimes induce electrical interference into the microphone sound system which will degrade dictation performance. Check with the software vendor for compatibility with the laptop you have in mind. Try before you buy, to be sure.
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Do I have to wear a silly microphone on my head?

It depends. In a very noisy environment you probably will have no other choice. In quieter environments, a desktop microphone such as those from Andrea or Telex or a lapel microphone could work effectively. Different products seem to have different levels of sensitivity to this issue and the vendors generally never recommend anything other than the head mikes. But we've had other useful results with other microphones. Your mileage may vary.
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Will voice products help with carpal tunnel syndrome?

Potentially they could be a great help in taking the work load off your fingers. But much more depends on the kind of computer work you do. For example, people who do writing would be helped a great deal; people who do data entry - names, addresses, figures - might find the benefit smaller because of recognition issues might require more manual correction.
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Some people say you get hoarse if you dictate for long periods - is that true?

Hoarseness is an indication that you are trying too hard; that you are trying to improve accuracy by talking in a certain way, a way you think might make the computer understand you better. When you're talking to a friend you don't get hoarse, so talk like that to your computer. Take breaks. Sip hot water or your favorite herb tea during your long dictation sessions.

It is also possible that you are moving your head slightly forward in order to speak to the computer. That movement will constrict the vocal cords thus causing strain. There are professionals whose business it is to detect these kinds of subtle movements and strain. Spending an hour or two with one of them, called teachers of the Alexander Technique, would be worth your while if this problem persists. Two people on our staff are such teachers and we would be delighted to make referral of a teacher in your area. Contact us indicating the city in which you would wish to have such assistance.
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Will voice interfaces eliminate the need for all hand movement?

No. Hardware will still need to be plugged in, turned on, and occasionally whacked with your fist. But smoother interaction is definitely here and it's a blessing for the computer challenged and expert alike.
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Why does this web site have almost no graphics?

We have optimized this site for speed of information retrieval rather than entertainment and flash. Business people don't always have the time for graphics which slow down Web page delivery.
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Is your question about voice and speech technology not answered here?

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Page Last Updated: 06/07/06