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Giving Voice to Linux with ViaVoice - page 7

Open the Pod Bay Door Please, HAL

  • December 26, 2000
  • By Scott Courtney

So, once ViaVoice is up and running, what is it good for? Does it belong on every Linux system? What is its mission in life?

Clearly, those who will benefit most from speech-to-text input are those who cannot type or do not wish to do so. Most programmers don't fall into these categories, and in any case ViaVoice would be a manifestly horrible tool for entering C++ or PHP code. While it handles things like time and date formats, and phone numbers, quite adroitly, it badly mangles anything that looks like code. Remember, this is speech-to-text, and code is structured radically differently from the text that ViaVoice is designed to handle.

People with physical or reading disabilities that prevent accurate typing are obvious beneficiaries of speech recognition tools. I spoke with Louis Albert of Akron, Ohio, about his use of speech-to-text software. Louis began using computers around 1975, but suffered a stroke in 1977 that left him with aphasia, a condition in which the language centers of the brain are dysfunctional. Louis can read to a limited extent, but has great difficulty typing or writing coherent text. Yet his speaking and listening abilities, while not perfect, are very good. Louis has used speech recognition for several years both for e-mail and for creating text for his web site, ifip.com.

Louis says that, after his stroke, he "went and talked to a lot of people in Pittsburgh (at Carnegie Mellon), and at MIT, too. Everybody I talked to said they had never dealt with my aphasia problem." He has found a partial answer in speech recognition, though, and the quality of today's software is up to the challenge. He currently uses Dragon Dictate but plans to try IBM ViaVoice as well.

Creating electronic documents, be they web pages or e-mails, is a challenge. "I often haven't the slightest idea how to spell a word or two" he says, but "the recognition software usually will work and helps me to do it. And now, it's amazing. It really works!"

He has found that sometimes the fluidity of voice dictation can help in another way, by allowing him to work in a stream-of-consciousness way and then filter the ideas later. In trying to form a single thought, sometimes multiple verbal sequences result, but the software captures them all for later editing. "What I say often doesn't make any sense," Louis jokes, "but the words [captured in the software] are correct."

Louis Albert's son, Byron, is an internet.com employee who is a wizard at Linux system administration. He also happens to be dyslexic, a problem that can make e-mail communication difficult. Unlike his father, though, Byron's speech skills are unimpaired. Speech recognition software, says Byron, offers him a way to communicate professionally with strangers without having to explain to people that he has a reading disorder. Byron, too, is very interested in ViaVoice since he is firmly in the pro-Linux camp.

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