Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Review of Dragon Naturally Speaking 10

A review of Dragon NaturallySpeaking by Nuance

It's easy to be amazed by voice recognition that is even reasonably accurate. It brings us humans one small step closer to being the master over our computer slave. To have the machine perform even the basic tasks that we need performed by using a voice command can be simultaneously frightening and astounding. Visions of Colossus, the Forbin Project might just be right around the corner and voice recognition brings us one step closer to the corner.

This is all a prelude to my review of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10.

I purchased an earlier version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking many years ago, installed it on my Windows machine, quickly grew tired of its inaccuracies although I was still somewhat amazed that it could perform at all. The newer, faster computers can put to rest many of the power issues the previous computers had. I purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 on sale from for about $30 including shipping and have been playing with it for the last month or so.

The accuracy of the software is amazing especially considering the low entry price. My initial intent wasn't to review this product. It was to turn a somewhat daunting typing task into a less daunting dictation task.

The product comes in the small cardboard box, most of which packages the included microphone and headset. Herein lies, possibly, the most distasteful part of this product and that is the uncomfortable headset that is included with it. Granted, I have a pretty big head but not so big that an adjustable headset shouldn't accommodate me. If I'm going to be wearing this product for hours on end I need to be able to do it comfortably and without leaving an impression in the side of my head where the microphone and earpiece are stationed. Aside from the comfort factor, the sound quality and the microphone seemed to work quite well. However after wearing it for 20 minutes or so I reverted to my old trusty Plantronics headset and microphone which I can easily keep on my noggin for hours on end.

I installed the software on three different computers; two desktops and a laptop. One of the desktops and the laptop were running windows XP the other desktop was running Vista. All computers have at least four gigs of RAM and plenty of disk space. The first installation was on the Vista machine and this is where I experienced the most trouble installing the product. I attempted installation and it errored out. I re-attempted installation on the Vista machine and it was successful the second time: total installation time was about 30 minutes or so. The installation on the XP desktop and the XP laptop were much easier and installed on the first try without any hiccupping.

Next was the training. I was presented with six or seven 10-minute passages to read; all of them from books of some sort. I chose Dave Barry, Lewis Carroll, and Dilbert on each one of the different machines (I needed to train them all individually) and proceeded to spend approximately 10 or 15 minutes teaching my computer to understand my voice commands. It was actually a rather soothing experience and each computer easily kept up with me.

A usage tutorial is included in the product it's worthwhile going through it. Simple voice commands are presented in the context of creating a test document and spending 15 minutes working with the voice recognition system is time well spent to avoid frustration later on.

I found the most difficult mindset change to be the necessity to think before you speak. This includes usually enunciating punctuation. It strikes me that since your fingers can't really keep up with your brain, for the most part, transferring intelligent thought through a keyboard to the computer tends to be like downshifting a car. Alternatively, the voice recognition system appears to have no problem keeping up with a steady stream of speech and therefore mentally composing your thoughts before you verbally enunciate them can save plenty of time later on where you might need to go back to correct words, phrases, or entire sentences. I suspect this mindset change will be the crux of the matter. Whether I continue to use this product are not will rest on whether I ultimately feel comfortable composing my thoughts mentally well before I enunciate them.

Considering the fact that the product eliminates me pounding on my keyboard for extended periods of time I hope I am able to make this mindset change.

In closing, I'll demonstrate the accuracy of the product by verbalizing a paragraph that I grabbed off the Internet. From Wikipedia I grabbed the following paragraph and will now proceed to verbalize it so that you can compare it to word-for-word:

"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" is an English-language pangram (a phrase that contains all of the letters of the alphabet). It has been used to test typewriters and computer keyboards, and in other applications involving all of the letters in the English alphabet. Due to its shortness and coherence, it has become widely known and is often used in visual arts.

And here's my verbalization:

The quick brown jumps over the lazy dog is an English-language pangram open parentheses a phrase that contains all the letters of the alphabet). It has been used to test typewriters and computer keyboards, and other applications involving all of the letters in the English alphabet. Due to its shortness and coherence, it has become widely known and is often used in visual arts.

Just so you know, I didn't verbalize the quotation marks so I won't hold it against the program. Not so with the parentheses statement so I'm not sure why it didn't get (like it did just now).

In summary: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 is accurate, easy to install and fun to use. If you're at all curious about voice recognition in its current incantation, price should not be the obstacle that keeps you away from this product.

And, yes, I did create this blog entry using the product.

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