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The Training Process for Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Why does NaturallySpeaking need to be trained before it understands your speech? The simple answer is that speech recognition is probably one of the hardest things your computer does. Humans may not think speech recognition is hard, but that’s because they are good at it.

Training a new piece of software is a strange idea. Other computer programs don’t need to be trained. When you get a new word processor, it doesn’t have to watch you type for awhile before it catches on. New spreadsheets do their adding and subtracting perfectly well straight out of the box, without any instruction from you.

By enabling you to install NaturallySpeaking, your computer has taken on one of the hardest tasks a PC ever faces. If you endure training with patience and persistence, and if you gently but firmly correct your NaturallySpeaking assistant whenever it makes a mistake, you’ll be rewarded with a computer that takes your verbal orders and transcribes your dictation without complaint (and even without a coffee break, unless you need one).

Quite a few magazine and newspaper articles have been written about voice recognition in general, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking in particular. Almost all of them contain an example that’s something like this: A guy says into a microphone, “Send e-mail to Bob about Friday’s meeting. Period. Bob, comma, glad you’re going to be there. Period.”

As if by magic, an e-mail application opens, a message window appears, Bob’s e-mail address is pulled out of an address book somewhere, “Friday’s meeting” is entered on the subject line, and the following text is entered into the message body: “Bob, glad you’re going to be there.”

The example is completely legitimate. But you need to keep something in mind: If you say, “Do the numbers on February’s revenue receipts,” your spreadsheet just sits there.

Like any good magician’s trick, more appears to be happening than actually happens. The computer has not suddenly been granted intelligence that rivals that of a human. The Nuance programmers have created a handful of scripts for doing everyday tasks, like generating e-mail messages and entering new events into a calendar program.

They’ve made the commands sound like the instructions you would give a personal assistant, and they’ve set things up so that a lot of similar-sounding commands produce the same result. But if you say, “Zip a message off to Bob,” nothing happens.

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