February 23, 2019

Giving Voice to Linux with ViaVoice - page 8

Open the Pod Bay Door Please, HAL

  • December 26, 2000
  • By Scott Courtney

Like the dizzying whirl of stars seen "inside" the Monolith, the possibilities for speech recognition software seem endless. IBM has created a product that is much more than an interesting toy: I will go so far as to state that I find ViaVoice for Linux to be (drum roll, please...) useful. In fact, a substantial portion of this article was dictated into ViaVoice, and for the most part only minor corrections were needed. There are still problems and bugs, and speech recognition in general is still a developing science. Dictating text into ViaVoice doesn't eliminate the need to proofread it, but at least the content is captured without typing.

Resource use of ViaVoice is high by today's standards, but this is not the first program to be "ahead of its time" from a hardware standpoint. In two years, I'm quite sure that the amount of CPU and memory needed for continuous speech recognition will be considered modest. For now, if you have the hardware and a desire to glimpse the future, IBM ViaVoice for Linux is worth a try. If you have wrist or finger arthritis, dyslexia, carpal tunnel problems, fluent aphasia, or if you are simply a rather slow typist, ViaVoice may be the answer to your prayers.

The one major weakness of ViaVoice today, in my opinion, is that it is not at all integrated with other applications. The process of dictating text, then cutting and pasting it into another program, is cumbersome in the extreme. Perhaps it is because in OS/2 Warp 4 I have seen what can be done, but this situation really frustrates me. Apparently IBM agrees, for they have joined the KDE League and are offering a software development kit (SDK) that allows ViaVoice to be seamlessly integrated into applications and into KDE itself. I look forward to seeing what ViaVoice will look like a year from now, when the KDE partnership begins to pay off.

In the meantime, ViaVoice has earned a place on my hard drive and it will remain there--not as a toy, but as a tool. Perhaps I won't use it every day, but I will use it, and I will probably buy a copy for my wife, an audio-visual librarian. I just bought a gigahertz Athlon motherboard and 256 megabytes of RAM, and I can't wait to try ViaVoice on the new machine.

HAL9000 was supposed to have become operational on January 12, 1992. We didn't make it by then, but some very bright people are working on the problems of building a self-aware, fully conversant machine. Perhaps it will happen in our lifetime. ViaVoice is nowhere near as sophisticated as HAL, but it also doesn't urge us to take stress pills before it sings "Daisy, Daisy" badly off-key. All things considered, I would say this is a reasonable tradeoff, and ViaVoice is a keeper.

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