Aussie shows Kiwis how to talk to a PC

Australian Greg Findlay will be attempting to convince people in Auckland next month that his speech recognition software can liberate them from their keyboards.

Australian Greg Findlay will be attempting to convince people in Auckland next month that his speech recognition software can liberate them from their keyboards.

Findlay, of Voice Perfect Systems, will be demonstrating the latest release of Dragon Naturally Speaking at a three-day expo in Auckland. Version 7 of the software, in a release customised for Australian speaking voices, will transcribe about 200 words a minute at more than 99% accurancy, Findlay says.

Kiwis need have no concern that the Australian version won’t understand them, says Findlay, who describes his own accent as "polyglot", and says he seldom uses a keyboard these days. For users on this side of the Tasman, the software includes a dictionary of words peculiar to New Zealand, including place names and Maori words.

Professionals -- lawyers, doctors, judges -- are among the biggest users of speech recognition software, he says.

"Many are getting cost justification for it merely for managing email."

The software supports not just Microsoft Outlook but Lotus Notes, contact manager Act and other mainstream email packages, says Findlay. With keyword short cuts and scripted sequences of commands, a user can quickly and quietly work through their inbox, filing and replying to messages, including creating and attaching word processor documents, without tapping a key.

If talking to your PC sounds unnatural, Findlay says noise cancellation microphones mean it’s unobtrusive even in open plan environments.

"For most people it only takes a couple of minutes to get used to it."

Findlay has been selling speech recognition systems for seven years; early, much less capable versions taught him that setting realistic user expectations is important. Instruction in using keywords, and writing scripts -- simple, he says, for anyone with Visual Basic experience or who’s used a scripting language -- is part of getting new users started.

Those who already dictate correspondence are quick to adapt, Findlay says. He claims the software’s widely used in the New South Wales court system, and has been adopted by Hansard recorders in the federal and state parliaments.

Jason Mansfield, who runs Voice Perfect’s Auckland office, believes speech recognition systems are on the brink of breaking through into the mainstream.

"The single greatest thing holding it back has been hardware."

Mansfield says the ready availability of PCs with 1GHz and faster CPUs that are well-endowed with memory -- 512MB is his suggestion, although the recommended minimum is half that -- will lift its popularity.

"People take some time to get their minds round new things, particularly talking to a computer."

He points out that mobile phones took some time to catch on but today they’re everywhere.

A still-elusive goal, however, is software that can accurately cope with multiple voices; a system that could transcribe a journalist’s interview, for example.

  • Findlay will stage demonstrations of Dragon Naturally Speaking at ICE Expo in Auckland from May 2 to 4. The event, run by Computerworld publisher IDG Communications, is on at the Auckland Showgrounds.

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