Thursday, July 30, 2009

What about Voice Recognition?

Since I’m in a public place at the moment, I have to type, rather than use my computer’s voice recognition program. I wasn’t even aware that this computer was already wired with such a tool until last night. What a pleasant surprise! I’ve thought a lot about using voice recognition when I write. It’s rather like recording your own voice, then having someone else type up the dictation. It takes substantial input to train the computer to type what you’re saying. My diction is taking a quite a beating, as are my memory skills (remembering the appropriate commands). But, hopefully, the effort will be worth it.

In the old days, I wrote my first (and thankfully still unpublished) novel by dictating it into a mini cassette tape recorder I had purchased from Radio Shack. I spent a lot of time in those days, sitting in school parking lots waiting for one or both of my kids to finish whatever practice they happened to be attending. I didn’t own a computer then (we’re talking 1990-91) so I would take my little recorder to work and spend every lunch hour typing up the previous day’s recordings. It took me a year to get that one novel down on paper. Now I’m thinking of doing something similar…talking into a digital recorder that holds 8 hours worth of my ramblings and then putting it in front of the microphone and hitting the playback button!

I wouldn’t be the first. Saying that better writers than I have used voice recognition to get their thoughts down on paper would likely be an understatement. For example, many years ago, NYT best-selling science fiction author, David Weber, managed somehow to break both wrists. Rather than stop writing, he downloaded an early version of Dragon Naturally Speaking and began to dictate all his work. I believe he is using it still (but I think he has upgraded his version). I’ll even add some shameless promotion here by saying that if you are a sci-fi fan and haven’t read his work, start with On Basilisk Station…the first in his best selling Honor Harrington series.

My second published book, The Commoner’s Guide to Dog Breeding, was a collaborative effort with David Savage of England. We did the entire book by e-mail and phone. He would send me these completely strange Word documents. It took me months before I realized he was legally blind! He was dictating to his computer using an early version of IBM’s Via Voice Gold that was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to translate his horribly Cockney accent into actual written word! Figuring out what he was really trying to say was challenging at best. In spite of David’s accent and the poor translation of it by Via Voice Gold, the book was still successfully written and published.

For several years now I have been thinking about purchasing Dragon’s latest version and implementing it on a regular basis. So my questions to all of you are…have you used a speech recognition program? If so, which one and did you find the results satisfactory? Just click on the comment link below and let me know!