> April 3, 1997
>New Software Greatly Advances Computer Dictation
> By STEPHEN C. MILLER
> C ontinuous speech has been the Holy Grail of the voice/speech
> recognition industry for years, and while it hasn't quite been
> achieved yet, Dragon Systems Inc. unveiled a new computer dictation
> system on Wednesday that represents a significant step forward in
> that quest.
> "Everybody knows that we will be able to talk to our computers,"
> the actor Richard Dreyfuss told a news conference in New York
> announcing the new system, known as Naturally Speaking. "But the
> question has always been: when?" Dreyfuss, who identified himself
> as an unpaid, unofficial spokesman for the Newton, Mass. company
> ("I'm just a fan"), implied that the when was now.
> Naturally Speaking is a so-called continuous-speech program,
> meaning that it allows a user to speak normally to the computer and
> have the words appear on the screen. Current speech or
> voice-recognition products require users to talk in what is known
> as discrete speech, meaning that each word must be pronounced
> individually, separated from the next word by a pause.
> Joel Gould, Dragon Systems' engineering manager, gave the most
> compelling demonstration of the product by using it while
> delivering his prepared remarks so that the words he was speaking
> appeared simultaneously on a giant computer screen. The system
> produced very few errors, and the mistakes it did make were easily
> corrected. To prove that it was not just a canned demonstration,
> Gould read from today's front page of The New York Times.
> "Acknowledged" was interpreted as "a knowledge" and Webster
> Hubbell's last name printed out as "howl," but the system generally
> worked well.
> [INLINE] It really works. And it gets better the more you use
> it. [INLINE]
> Scott Miller, Dataquest
> A new feature of the program is the integration of command and
> dictate modes. Dragon Systems' current product, Dragon Dictate,
> requires the user to switch between command mode (for example, when
> the speaker says "new paragraph and indent") and dictate mode (when
> the speaker says, "The quick brown fox . . .") Not having to change
> modes makes the product easier to use.
> Yet some complications are unavoidable. For example, the user must
> specify all the punctuation, which represents a new skill for most
> people and can be cumbersome.
> Another challenge in designing dictation programs is making them
> speaker independent. A speaker-independent system will understand
> the speech of anyone, but that is very difficult to achieve since
> accents, regional pronunciations and everyday mumbling make for
> significant differences in how people speak.
> Speaker-dependant software makes a user "train" the program to
> understand that particular user's speech patterns. It can take days
> to train some dictation programs to a degree of accuracy that makes
> the program useful. Usually the user has to recite a long list of
> words that represent the program's "vocabulary." But even after
> training, something as simple as a case of the sniffles can make
> that user unintelligible to the software.
> Dragon Systems isn't claiming total speaker independence, but Dr.
> Janet Baker, the company's president and cofounder, said that
> Naturally Speaking significantly reduced training time. "It takes
> about 18 minutes to train the program," Baker said. That amount of
> time, she asserted, is insignificant when compared to how long it
> takes most people to learn to type.
> Scott Miller, a senior industry analyst at Dataquest, a San Jose,
> Calif., research firm, said he was impressed after being given an
> advance peek at the software. "It really works," Miller said. "And
> it gets better the more you use it."
> The big unknown, as usual, is what Microsoft is cooking up.
> While Miller was quick to acknowledge the product's imperfections,
> he said that it was ahead of most of the competition. He said that
> the major advantage of Naturally Speaking was that it represented
> the first step in getting people past the biggest barrier to using
> computers -- the ability to type. Just about everyone can talk.
> The big unknown in the voice-recognition industry right now is what
> Microsoft Corporation has up its sleeve. The maker of the Windows
> operating systems has long made clear its interest in incorporating
> voice recognition technologies in future products. Several years
> ago, Microsoft licensed some technology from Dragon, but it is
> currently traveling its own road and keeping its plans under wraps.
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