Writers: Six Reasons to Embrace Voice Recognition Technology

  1. It’s fast. The other day I tried dictating a passage in my WIP into my MacBook. I completed a thousand words in much less time than I would have managed with my laborious typing.
  2. It’s fun. Watching the words spill out miraculously onto your screen gives you a weird sense of power.
  3. It’s funny. Sometimes it throws up weird howlers. For instance: ‘up the ladder’ became ‘Auchterarder’. (Home of the Gleneagles Hotel, I believe. Not a setting I’m likely to use.)
  4. Accuracy will improve as the tool gets used to my voice. This is true. Siri and I have had some misunderstandings in the past but we are friends now. He still won’t sing me a song though.
  5. It’s hands-free. In theory, I could do other things while dictating, such as ironing or making an omelette. And again, in theory, I should be able to dictate anywhere, except that you really need a silent environment.
  6. Typing can seriously damage your health. I never learned to type properly because when I was growing up only women typed. So I can only type with one hand, and mostly just two fingers. Repetitive strain injury may not be far away…

Six Reasons Why Not…

  1. Those howlers. Sometimes they are so funny you can’t resist posting them on Facebook and then chatting about them. Gained time is soon lost.
  2. You really do need a silent ambience. Results improved radically when I turned off the electric fan on my desk. Silence is at a premium in our busy world.
  3. How’s your diction? I pride myself on crisp enunciation. However, just before I conducted the experiment, I lost a crown over a front tooth, leaving me looking like Fagin. My fricatives (especially /f/ and /v/) were rather ambiguous and one result was borderline obscene.
  4. Punctuation and paragraphing.You have to go back and manually sort this out in your script. I know that there are VR resources that can do this for you but I’m not ready to fork out the dosh till I experiment a little more.
  5. While dictation reduces the fear that a new idea will evaporate before I can get it down, I’m not sure that speed equates with quality of expression. I will persevere.
  6. Those howlers again. Very distracting. They tempt you to play games. Here, for instance, is the Lord’s prayer as dictated into my iPad and pasted here (with tooth restored):

Our father which art in heaven hello do bees by the name the Liking them come they will be done on earth as it is in heaven give us this day our daily bread and forgives our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us leaders not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom apparently glory for ever and ever Ahmed

I’d love to hear your views and experiences. Why not start a discussion at the bottom of this blog entry?

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Back in the early 1960s. MAD Magazine did a few pages about the “future” and voice recognition typing. This was before electric typewriters were commonplace, and so anticipated WIRED magazine by more than 50 years.

MAD’s conclusion was that it wouldn’t work because the easily distracted nature of male executives.

“Dear Mr Schwartz, I am writing about your overdue invoice – is that bum late again?! What time does he think this is? – for $72.99. I have given you ample time – yeah, another coffee would be great, sweetie; this time make sure it’s hot – to settle this account . If we haven’t received payment with in 48, no 72 hours, I will be forced to – Yikes! How tight can sweaters get?! Last week it was a short skirt! – terminate your account with us. Your sincerely, etcetera, etcetera.”

I will attempt to feed it the next chapter in my best Llandysul accent. It may come out like Dylan Thomas on a particularly spectacular bender.

‘A little less vermouth in my martini, Fiskerton. You have some strangely plebeian notions.’ – This should not have appeared in my wip. It was merely an aside to my butler.

As promised, here is a VR version of Under Milk Wood in my best Ceredigion accent:
To begin at the beginning it is spring homeless night in the small town stylists in the Bible Black the cobbled streets silent advanced quarters and rabbits ward limping invisible down to the slow black slow black crow black fishing boat bobbing sea the houses are blind as moles mostly find tonight in the starting velvet tingles or blind as captain Fair in the muffled middle by the pump on the town clock the shops in morning the welfare Hall Lane with those weeds and all the people of the landlord and on plantarum a sleeping now

Hi Ian. I’m not exactly an expert on this type of thing. But I think the technology we use really influences the way we think. For example, there’s evidence that it’s better for students to take handwritten notes in lectures because they have to write more slowly, which in turn forces them to process what they hear (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614524581). So there is something to be said for technologies which slow us down. Nonetheless, I suspect that when we dictate we’re probably more attuned to the sounds of words, e.g. it may be a better medium for producing alliteration. I think the best method is probably typing followed by reading allowed.

Sorry for the slow reply, Nick. Just finished 4 edits of the WIP. Yes, I agree. Dictating text has saved my poor wrist some agony as has a vertical mouse. However, I find that my laptop will read text aloud for me. This is so helpful. It helps me eliminate so many of the ‘the the’ repetitions that are so easy to perpetrate, especially if the repetition is on split lines. The voice is a bit like Stephen Hawking on speed but the modulation isn’t too bad. It’s crap on foreign languages and often bizarre on proper nouns. DC Rickart came out as Dear Sweetheart so often that I had to change the name. Thanks for your interest.

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