Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Experimenting with voice recognition software

This is an experiment in composing a blog post using Dragon dictation software for the iPhone. I am still having problems with carpal tunnel syndrome and decided it would be better to experiment with dictation software rather than waiting eternally for my hands to heal.

I've ordered DragonDictate for my Mac but in the meantime I'm going to read three opening paragraphs from three books on my shelves just to show what the software can and can't do in the free iPhone form.

I have edited the intro for correctness (e.g. I had change "myself" to "my shelves" in the paragraph above) but will not be editing the paragraphs beyond adding punctuation and capitalization for clarification.

Here is the first, from Have His Carcase, by Dorothy Sayers:

The best remedy for a bruised heart is not as so many people seem to think because upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet saying found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal, and although board Peter Lindsay with a touching faith and tradition persistent day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.

Not half bad, really. It botched the characters' names (Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey) and missed a few words here and there--e.g. in the first sentence "because" should be "repose," and later on "persistent" should be "persisted"--but it's recognizable.

The second, from Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey:

Lest anyone should suppose that I am a Kacoos child got on the wrong side of the plaintiff by lusting peasant stock and sold into condenser in the short following season, I may say that I am house born and reared in the night court proper for all the good it get me.

Now, that one is a mess. It's supposed to be "cuckoo's child." I don't even know what "Kacoos" IS. Also, plaintiff=blanket, lusting=lusty, condenser=indenture, and short following=shortfallen, just for starters.

The third is from Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold:

Miles returned to consciousness with his eyes still closed. His brain seem to smolder with the confused embers of some fiery dream foremost saving. He was shaken by a fearful conviction that he had been killed again till memory and reason began to place the shredded experience.

Much better. The first and last sentences are perfect, and the only things wrong with the middle one are that it didn't hear that "seem" should be "seemed," and also "foremost" should be "formless" and "saving" should also be an adjective for the dream, only I can't remember which one and don't have the book in front of me anymore.

I'm finding that this software seems to work best if I use my public speaking voice--in other words I try to speak slowly and clearly but without changing my accent or over-pronouncing words. I'm assured that the real version of the software that I get for my computer will learn my accent and can also be taught to use the proper names and specialized vocabulary that tend to show up in my novels. I hope that's the case, because when I tried reading it some of my work, the results were similar to the Jacqueline Carey excerpt. This software does 21st century American English pretty dang well. Throw it a historical voice and a moderately unusual vocabulary and it gets confused in a hurry.

I delayed trying voice recognition software for the longest time because I had it in my head that thinking at a keyboard and thinking while talking are two different things. I realized, however, that I was doing something I warn other writers not to do--being a diva and saying I could only write when all the conditions were just so. Until my hands heal I simply must train myself to write with my voice in the same way I write with my fingers on the keyboard. I don't want to delay writing any longer.


  1. I need one of these programs. Keep me posted on how it turns out. I suffer vision problems and I'd love to be able to dictate once and a while. Hope your hands heal soon. Good luck. Best.