About every fifth year, I purchase some dictation software. I do this because I am a firm believer in technology, in particular the use of technology to overcome personal limitations, such as writer’s block, carpal tunnel syndrome, a propensity for procrastination, and general laziness.
About two weeks after the initial purchase, I typically experience the disappointment familiar to any technology optimist: namely, that the technology does not live up to what it says on the box.
Dictation software, for instance, typically is slow and buggy and doesn’t understand my accent. It also tends to consume all the available processing power of my laptop, a scarce resource if there ever was one, and not play nice with my existing applications.
This time, that may not happen. I am writing this using Dragon dictate software, and not only does it recognize what I’m saying, but it responds quickly and naturally to the various editing and navigation commands that I utter, mostly without looking in the manual. As a matter of fact it is a little bit like dictating to an unfamiliar and not very personable secretary. There are still some problems in the recognition department, such as the software frequently choosing the wrong tense of a verb, but that is easily fixed simply by telling the software to go back and repaired the damage.
This is the fourth time I’m buying dictation software. My first test was in 1996 and simply did not work at all. I then tried again in 1998 and lastly, I think, sometime around 2007. The stuff is gotten better, but there is always been something missing. The difference now, I think, is that the software responds fast enough for you as a user to adjust your behavior to the software almost in real time. As I’ve written before, this almost tactile response is crucial for the usability of a technology, be it on screen via a keyboard or using some other input method.
With the previous versions of this software, I have not been able to experiment enough to properly learn the most useful features of the software, restricting myself to simply entering text, often by reading handwritten notes or other files into the computer. The quick, almost tactile response from the software, along with its seeming ability to learn as we go along leads me to think that this time, for sure, things will be different.
Of course, solving the problem of word recognition and flexible editing does nothing to help with a more fundamental problems that a writer, particularly a brother unsystematic one such as myself, faces. Academic output as a function of processor speed is a flat line, as far as I know, especially if the y-axis is one of quality. But the software might help with my aching underarms, and might prove to be a way of concentrating at the task at hand, because it is very hard to jump into another window and watch a few YouTube videos or check e-mail or twitter using nothing but voice commands.
Now, if it was only available in Norwegian…
(Yes, there are a few errors here. I will let them stand as a demonstration….)