All voice recognition software—and there are many of them—cater to one crying need: a human being’s unslaked craving to be heard and understood.
The second, more practical service that these products offer is the freedom from typing on the keyboard. They all succeed to varying capacities.
Apple has its own inbuilt voice recognition software, which, frankly, sucks. Google Chrome offers voice recognition, activated by pressing the function key twice—to a slightly better degree. Siri, Amazon Echo and Microsoft Cortana all transcribe voices into words on mobile devices.
Of the lot, Dragon is the most advanced with respect to transcribing. It has customized versions for lawyers, doctors and regular folks. And it works. This entire article has been dictated using Dragon Dictate software.
There is a reason why virtual assistants are a virtual reality these days. Perhaps it has to do with power—we all want someone who will hang on to our every word. Perhaps it is also because of an infantile desire for someone to “look after” our chores—which, in this age, are largely digital.
We want someone to answer emails, type out memos and compose text. This infantile desire converges with the need to be all grown up like our fathers: have an office, a secretary, or at least a digital one. Or perhaps it is simply a ruse by product companies—who after all, make money by creating products and apps that we may or may not need.
There are scores of them. An app called Accompany pretends to be the handler that whispers key information in your ear before a meeting. Others like Skedool become time and appointment managers. A third category aspires to be the stenographer—that endangered species who we see in old movies or photos of our grandfather’s office.
You know the type? A lady called Nancy, clad in a tight grey skirt or sari, silently entering the inner sanctum of the office, carefully recording every pearl of wisdom that emerges from the boss’s mouth, then typing it for posterity.
Well, Dragon Dictate is a voice recognition software that aims to offer that service: a stenographer and a transcriber rolled into one. The name is a bit of an oxymoron. You don’t want a dragon as your stenographer. You want a mute admiring slave.
Dragon Dictate Professional Individual for Mac claims to transfer dictated words into prose on your computer. It is supposed to work with multiple applications, but it does best with Microsoft Word.
Once you get over the self-consciousness of dictating loudly to your computer, the whole thing works quite magically. If you are of that ilk who can collect your thoughts into coherent sentences, this software will, if not change your life, at least improve it measurably. Everyone who fears carpal tunnel syndrome ought to give this a try.
The software forces you to enunciate clearly, which in turn requires that you crystallize your sentences into well-articulated paragraphs without the customary hemming and hawing that we all do.
Just when you are riding high on the wave of words springing out of your mouth and magically transforming into script on your computer, the software crashes like a kid after a sugar high, leaving you, much like the kid, irritated, frustrated and near tears. Which is to say that this software that encourages you to dictate ends up dictating the terms of engagement. Saving your manuscript often is a requirement.
The other issue has to do with your office environment. If you sit in a cubicle surrounded by other people, it seems kind of strange to be dictating into your computer. You would have to whisper for fear of disturbing your colleagues, which would defeat the purpose. All of which plays into the fantasy that in order to afford a stenographer—either in software or human form—you need a corner office, or at least an office with a shuttable door.
Dragon lists Indian as one of the accents that it understands. It actually does so surprisingly well. Once you get used to a particular form of dictating, using words such as “comma” or “full stop” to punctuate your sentences, you can free your hands and do calisthenics if you so wish.
Dictating in a noiseless environment helps the software grab your words a tad easier. The company sells a headset for improved clarity. I found that simply dictating into the internal microphone of my computer works just as well. I spoke in my normal Indian accent. Dragon understood pretty much every word.
Indian names, however, are a huge challenge, particularly multisyllabic south Indian ones like Subramaniam and Parthasarathy, which my software transcribed to “super money am”, and “part society”, respectively.
There are ways that you can increase its vocabulary to include Indian ingredients, names and rituals. That takes time and commitment, which is another way of saying that you need to figure out if you are in it for the long haul.
The real problem that I had was with Apple’s latest software update—Sirius, which aims to bring Siri to your desktop. Frankly, I wish I had not downloaded it because Siri took an instant dislike to my Dragon. Like squabbling colleagues or a marriage that fell apart, they each bulldozed and gridlocked the other from working. I finally had to close Sirius to work with Dragon.
Nuance offers a variety of speech recognition choices under Dragon that can be downloaded.
The latest Mac version for individuals retails for $300.
If you are queasy about speaking to a computer, you should try the free Dragon downloads that are available for mobile devices. They allow you to dictate into your phone or tablet without shelling out a few hundred bucks. Once you get comfortable with formulating ideas and then dictating them, you may want to spring for the professional version.
After all, the older you get, the less you would want to risk your wrists. Finding a software sonographer could be a wonderful option.
Comments are welcome at [email protected]