Yew Tock and it Types Four Hue!

  By Shamus   Dec 15, 2006   13 comments

One of the ads in the sidebar right now is for “Dragon Naturally Speaking”, a program which allows you to “type by talking”. You know: speech recognition and whatnot. The ad boasts “99% accuracy, can your staff do as well?

Actually, unless they are just learning English the average person is bound to do a lot better than a mere 99%. Words are lost all the time due to background noise or differing pronounciation, be we are nearly always able to auto-correct for this on the fly, usually before the other person even finishes speaking. If we really couldn’t figure out one out of every hundred words, conversation would be maddening. We would be misunderstanding each other, or asking the other person to repeat things more or less constantly. The average Joe can do better than 99% talking on a cell phone in a noisy room.

So yeah, unless you’re the governor of California, your staff probably does a lot better than 99% accuracy.

(Oh, and a slight disclaimer: You need to train the software for a week before you can attain that less-than stellar 99%.)

LATER: I must add: I don’t have a problem with the software itself, my gripe here is that the ad was trying to pit their software against human beings. Computers are unbeatable when it comes to doing calculations, sorting, and storage of data. But when it comes to deciphering language, they can’t hope to keep up with a human. So, the ad was kind of indirectly insulting, which is why I just wasted four paragraphs on it.

Sheesh. I shouldn’t be this grumpy on a Friday.

1313 comments. That's a baker's dozen.


  1. Sartorius says:

    Seriously, though, is it really that wise to argue against the ads which subsidize your site?

  2. Deoxy says:

    The ad boasts “99% accuracy, can your staff do as well?”

    See, the problm was only one word… “can”. If they had written “does” instead, they would have been spot on.

  3. ShadoStahker says:

    True enough.

    I think they’re also saying 99% with regards to spelling, though. And while a human will understand your words, they may not always spell them right (though a trained secretary/transcriptionist will, they cost much more money).

    With the software getting better, I’d believe 99%. It does requires you spend some time “training” it to recognise your voice/accent/pronounciations, however.

  4. tg says:

    The humans can correctly interpret the dictation at a rate much higher than 99%, but can the human office staff correctly type the dictated speech at the same speed as Dragon with the same accuracy?

    Maybe…

  5. Dr-Online says:

    My grandfather uses that program, and is possibly one of the funniest people to get an e-mail from, because, for some reason, he always says snooze instead of sleep. So you’d get the end of the e-mail, followed by the word snooze, followed by about 4 minutes of random gibberish because he’s put the headset down.

  6. Dave says:

    I’ve never used any voice-to-text myself, so I can’t speak to it’s merits.

    On the other hand, I do know that Dragon is what professional author David Weber uses, so that’s probably a good sign, given that his livelihood depends on it and all.

    As to the ad — what, you expected calm, reasoned discourse in the place of hype? They’re just following in a grand tradition. (Wasn’t it John Henry that beat the steam engine that was advertised as better than a man?)

  7. Rich says:

    “Words are lost all the time due to background noise or differing pronounciation, be we are nearly always able to auto-correct for this on the fly,”

    Did you mean “BUT we are”? ;)

  8. Roy says:

    Hmmm. Yeah, when I read that, I automatically assumed it wasn’t just talking about the ability to understand what was being said, but to understand what is said and “type it” out correctly. While human beings generally hear better than 99% of what is said, that doesn’t automatically translate into being able to accurately reproduce it in writing, on the fly. A quick glance on the web suggests that the “average” typist hits in the 90 wpm range (but not at 100% accuracy), but that we speak much faster than that, with most conversational speakers putting out around 200 wpm. If this program can get 200 wmp down at 99% accuracy, then it’s probably doing better than most typists.

  9. Deoxy says:

    Actually, from what I recall, Dragon really isn’t that great, anyway. I had a friend with some kind of spech recognition software back in the early to mid 90’s that was about that good out of the box, or at least, it worked very close to perfectly for him (perhaps he had an easy-to-understand voice, or something).

  10. I’ve got a version of Dragon (which I haven’t used in a couple of years). It’s actually not bad in terms of accuracy, but you have to talk somewhat slowly and in an even tone. Kind of like Ben Stein trying to tell someone over the phone how to put on a tie.

    Typing is much faster and there’s also a “backspace” key.

  11. Heather says:

    I proofread for a writer friend who uses it exclusively. It is very different from proofreading for a writer who types because of the nature of the mistakes, and there are a LOT of crazy ones.

  12. Merle says:

    Dragon NS is actually better than 99%, once you have trained yourself in how to speak to it. I actually did HTML coding using it when I had wrist problems. But you are right, comparing it to a human is just stupid.

    (came here via a link to the DM of the Rings comic — awesome!)

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