Here's a repeat of a post I put onto the future hardware section, where they were talking about the possibility of a new voice-enabled computer::
This should whet your appetite...
I recently installed ViaVoice for OS X; a product that IBM and Apple worked quite closely on. It is incredible. It truly sets a new standard for voice recognition. I don't know what Apple did in creating the guts of OS X, but it allows for real-time, error-free dictation and command & control with a computer that has not yet been seen outside of labs. What about IBM? Well, I've read several reports that indicated that IBM left it up to Apple to make sure that ViaVoice would work nicely!
The speculation that Apple might be closer than anyone thought to having a real voice-activated computer may not be far off. It would not surprise me if we see it on Monday!
Unfortunately, the speculation that anybody could walk up to any Mac and be instantly understood is still a pipe-dream (a well-filled pipe, at that!). With ViaVoice for OS X, you still need to train it to know your voice, and an Apple voice recognition program would also require such training.
The people who dismiss voice recognition as being a little bit o' nothin' haven't experienced a product built for OS X!
ViaVoice for OS X is so good that I'm even able to play soft music on my computer (which has a nice set of external speakers and subwoofer) and still get nearly 100% accuracy! I also don't like wearing a microphone on my head, so I drape it around my neck and position the mic sort of close!! Like I said before, this is a different world than anything we've seen before!!!
Here's a review of ViaVoice for OS X that I submitted to Applelinks::
A brief background ... I have a little experience with older versions of ViaVoice on the Mac platform, more experience with ViaVoice and Dragon NaturallySpeaking on PCs, as well as extensive experience with MacSpeech's iListen. My installation of ViaVoice is on an iMac DV 400 with 320 MB of RAM, running OS X 10.1.2.
This latest product from IBM changes the whole voice recognition landscape, and immediately raises the bar for other similar software! The basic functions of this program will be immediately familiar to anyone experienced with speech recognition software. The difference comes in two ways. First, the training exercises are far easier to use with this software than anything I have used before. Second, and more importantly, the accuracy of ViaVoice for OS X is simply astonishing. The native vocabulary is more than adequate for most anyone's needs. So far, I have only had to train ViaVoice to learn two words. The accuracy is nearly 100%. I'm sure that my previous experience with voice recognition technology makes my accuracy better than someone could get who has had no experience, but I firmly believe that anyone who puts five hours of labor into creating their voice model will be richly rewarded.
The accuracy of ViaVoice for OS X has been so good that I decided it to try an odd little experiment, a thing that should not have worked very well, but something that resulted in quite a surprise. I fired up iTunes and started playing some music; and then I started to dictate some text - while music was playing softly in the background! This should have resulted in absurd accuracy, especially since the noise-cancelling qualities of the included microphone (the only microphone that is supported by this program) are reported to be not that great (though I've had no problems!). I was stunned when I discovered that the accuracy only took a minor hit. Since many people tend to listen to music while working on their computer, having the ability to have soft music playing in the background while you are dictating text is an incredible thing; something that no other speech recognition software that I have tried could have possibly done (without major degradation in accuracy).
ViaVoice is still a very SpeakPad-oriented kind of thing. Yes, you can dictate into any text field with wonderful accuracy, but correction only works in SpeakPad and the speed is much greater in SpeakPad (though this could be because I don't have an Altivec-enhanced or multiple-processor G4). I find myself composing emails in SpeakPad and, when done, saying "Transfer To Eudora"; which automatically opens a new email and fills it with whatever is in the current SpeakPad window. If you wish to send the text to an application that doesn't support AppleScripting, then you can simply "Select All", "Copy This", "Paste This"! The amazing thing about all of this is that there are no uncomfortable halts or delays in any of these processes. The commands are executed as quickly as they can be articulated.
The Command and Control abilities within ViaVoice are even better, from an accuracy viewpoint, than dictation. The built in capabilities of ViaVoice, to run programs, open & close windows, cursor movement within a document, etc., runs flawlessly. If an individual is the type who likes playing with macros and AppleScripts, then there is no limit to the tasks that can be voice-activated. Over time, I expect that I will be using these capabilities extensively.
Using ViaVoice's correction mode is an important part of making the application be as accurate as possible. In the beginning, just after you have read in the training stories, the accuracy of this program will be very good, but not incredible. The thing that takes ViaVoice over the top, is dictating a few letters and using its built-in correction mode to modify one's profile. The concept of using the correction mode is simple, but getting the hang of incorporating it into your dictating experience can take a little getting used to. Like any voice recognition software, ViaVoice needs to adapt itself to your particular voice model. It's very good at doing this, I have been amazed at how well this program is able to take some garbled mess I've dictated into the microphone and it comes up with an excellent list of possible meanings. Once the text is selected, the list of possible meanings is displayed in the correction window. Almost always, the correct text is displayed. You simply say "Pick 3" and the offending text will be replaced.
On the down side, I've experienced a few bugs with this software. Luckily, none seem to be show-stoppers. The biggest annoyance is that when you wake your computer from sleep the ViaVoice desktop widget will have lost some of its functions (they are grayed out). The program still works just fine, but you have to use function keys and voice commands rather than some parts of the widget (other parts still work). Another problem (that tends to happen in all voice recognition software) is that if you give it too many commands too quickly, it can get lost, but a quick "go to sleep" "wake up" usually end the confusion. The Playback selection function, where you can hear a recording of what you dictated (for correction purposes), doesn't seem to work under certain situations (this is a very odd bug which I'm still trying to figure out). Finally, there are a number of ways in which quitting SpeakPad will result in the infamous spinning beach ball of death; requiring a force quit.
Speed is the final determinant on whether a voice recognition product is usable. As I've already said, the speed for dictating into SpeakPad is great, though dictating into other programs is a little slow on my machine. The speed for command and control could not be better. The time it takes ViaVoice to start is also more than acceptable; while starting SpeakPad is a tad slower. The biggest surprise for me was the time it takes to analyze a document for inclusion into your voice model; a major drawback in previous versions. It now is an effortless process that takes so little time one wonders if it is actually taking place (but it is!).
My final comment about ViaVoice for Mac OS X is a purposefully strong one: ViaVoice for Mac OS X is so good it is a reason for a person to purchase a modern Mac running OS X!