For the past few weeks, I have been attempting to familiarize myself with voice-recognition software. Designed to allow the user to speak to their computer and have their words materialize on the screen, the software could be a huge boon to busy people everywhere.
My plan was that if the headset microphone could reach that treadmill, perhaps eventually I could walk and work at the same time. (I’m always on the lookout for ways to sneak in my exercise.)
I spent an hour or two completing the tutorial that came with the software and reading the information that came with the headset microphone. Then I opened a blank document and began practicing. It seemed to be working wonderfully, and was quite impressive to my children. Of course, they thought anyone could speak to the computer and have it listen, headphones notwithstanding. (That part was pretty funny; I watched them each attempt to control the laptop from their chairs.)
That weekend I attended a conference on manure management. I had to write an article for Lancaster Farming, another publication for which I write, and I decided to give my new software and headset a try.
Things seemed to be progressing well until I said the word “manure” for the first time. For whatever reason, the voice-recognition software would not acknowledge that word. It gave me several other options for what it believed I meant, none of which was appropriate for the article I was writing.
Let me give you an example. I’m wearing the headset right now, and I am going to say, “manure.” Mine or. When you’re. Minor. Menorah. Mine or. Mughal war. (Whatever that one is.) See what I mean?
Each time I needed to say “manure,” I attempted to pronounce it with the utmost clarity and definitive enunciation. I tried speaking softer, louder, angrily and calmly, all to no avail. Thank goodness I have no close neighbors who could hear me screaming the word manure repeatedly at the screen.
Instead, I was required to spell that word each and every time I needed it. (The whole conference was about manure, people. I needed it a lot!) Several times I said the word and then had to make an edit. That required me to repeat whatever suggestion the software had made about what it thought I said and then ask it again to spell my word. Some time saver, huh?
The troubleshooting guide was quick to point out that the software isn’t perfect. They say that each generation of it will perform better than the last. But they also assured me that the more I talk to it, the better the program gets at understanding what I mean. But I’m not certain that I believe them. I mean, not one time did the software understand that particular word. Not. One. Time.
And frankly, I think that is mine or. Mine or. Mind nor. Ah, forget it. You know what I mean.
Laura Zoeller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.