with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Voices Over the Computer

It seems that technology is finally catching up with desired results. For the longest time people have wanted to “talk” to their computers. This isn’t something from the fiction of Star Trek, it is just “easier” to talk to your computer than to move around through menus, clicking and tapping on your mouse and keyboard. If you can just tell it want you want, computers will have finally caught up with our real needs.

IBM and Dragon/Scansoft have been working hard to bring voice recognition to your computer, but the technology, the engine in the machine, hasn’t been able to keep up with the volume of processing data required for efficient speak recognition and response. So commands have been simple. Open File. Save File. Start Excel. Things like that. Now that the technology in the box is finally catching up and soon we may be able to ask a question like, “Computer, what time is it in Timbuktu?”

Okay, not yet, but getting closer all the time. The problem doesn’t seem to be with the recognition. The software, especially the more expensive programs, can recognize thousands of words in various accents and orders. But they still are programmed to follow specific ordered instructions instead of free wheeling conversational speech.

As much as I want to talk to my computer, I want my computer to talk to me. I want it to read my email out loud and let me and answer while I move around my home or office away from the computer. I want my computer to tell me when there is an email or someone is calling or if there is some critical news that just showed up in the online newspapers or magazines.

Now, Opera Software has entered the field to bring a voice to the Internet, joining Microsoft Internet Explorer (with Microsoft Speech Engine installed). The newest version of Opera With Voice Internet Browser will read web pages out loud and let you command the browser through specific commands. It still isn’t conversation but commands, but it is a step in the right direction. And it’s free.

According to the press release, Opera will respond to about 50 commands such as “Opera Next Link”. In order to “read” the content of a page, the text must be selected (still no freedom from the mouse or keyboard) and then the verbal command “Read” must be given. This is fine if the page is laid out well, but unfortunately most pages still don’t meet the simpliest W3C or accessibility standards so your selected text might include massive lines of links or advertising that you really don’t want to “hear” and it might be inserted within the context of the page rather than hearing the context flow through naturally. So you might be hearing: “…and the information that you have been waiting for anxiously is…its time to get more ink for your printer. We have the best prices on the net so buy now and get 10% off…right here. The solution to the problem is…Visit Flowers dot us for the best on your flower purchases, nationally and internationally….” Get the picture.

I know that the W3C is working on identifying content separate from links and ads so that readers can move through the information in an uninterrupted way through XHTML and the newest versions, but the voice reading and recognition programs aren’t keeping up with their needs either.

Soon, folks. Soon we will be living a Star Trek life and be cursing our computers and having them respond “Inquiry not understood. Please repeat query.”

Oh, those will be the days.

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