Data Directions - Is Voice Coming to a System Near You?

You have to love this technology stuff. First, you spend your younger years learning all about how to make programs run faster, sort a file faster, get that audit in the customer master maintenance file. Then your kids start playing War Craft, then Star Craft (that's War Craft reincarnated, like the AS/400 is a reincarnation of the System/38).

You spend time on your computer at work, fighting, sometimes winning, usually losing, then you go home and help your kid install that new disk drive. Of course the BIOS is at the wrong level for the size of your drive. You can't win. Then your kid convinces you to play Star Craft with him. And your 8-year-old does a "Pincer Movement" on you and before you get your first Command Center done you're fried!

So I am up for anything that makes technology easier to master. When I heard that voice technology was starting to come into its own, I had to take another look. A few years ago, I tried it, but gave up. Now however, there is real possibility. So I figured I'd load IBM's voice product and do this article with it. I'd save time, have some fun, come up with new ways to use it.

Simple, right? Well...

First off, this version has been typed. I got so frustrated and so behind schedule, that I had no choice but to revert to keying it in. It is not that the voice recognition technology did not work, it worked much better than I thought it would. It worked a little too well.

Have you ever thought about how you think? Or better yet, how you think while you write? I never really have until I tried this. The first thing that hit me was I had no idea what to say to myself (I know, it was a first). Finally, I got started when the dog came in and started barking at something, so I yelled at her. Sure enough - right in the middle of a paragraph - was "Dakota - stop barking at the kids!" There is an undo command that you can speak, but I did not know what it was.

So I stopped and reverted to the keyboard method, made the change and started again. Then one of the kids asked me a question. Without thinking, I just answered it. Doggone if that didn't show up in my story. Then I was asked to keep the noise down because my son couldn't hear the Zergs beating up on the Terans!

Voice technology has come a long way. The accuracy was better than I thought it would be, and technically, it seemed to do most of what I thought it would do. The problem was that it forced me to do something that was different from the way I had been doing it for a long time.

When I moved from a yellow pad to a keyboard a number of years ago, it was a simple transition. All that happened was that I could type faster than write, I could fix things easier, and I could spell check (that was the best). I did not have to think differently. Speaking while thinking was different. I am sure if you asked people who know me, they will tell you I never think when I speak. Wait, that's not what I mean.

It got me to thinking about all the new technologies that we force on our users, most of whom couldn't care less about the latest GUI or release of the system. They just want to come in, do their work (without thinking if possible) and go home. They do not want to become victims of technology. Many times we make them so and tell them it is for their own good. Sometimes it is. Sometimes I wonder though.

So here I am, trying to think before I speak so the machine can type for me.

The typing part works fine. The think part is still a problem. I am sure that with a lot of practice, it will become second nature and I will not have to type any more. Just think of it. You come in to work, sit down at the customer service department where there are 40 people sitting three feet from each other, taking orders on the phone -- speaking to their terminals.

I can hear it now. "You said what? Wait a minute, I have to erase that. Oh darn. Nelly! What was that command to stop typing? Look you stupid glow worm of a machine, stop that! No, not you Betty, this machine I am trying to get your order into. Tell you what, why don't you fax it to me until I can figure this thing out, OK? Thanks. Yeah, I love them too. Bye."

And so goes the encroachment of technology on our humble, uncomplicated lives. Well, next time I'll have this thing down. OK, stop typing. No stop. Shoot what was that command? Oh, @#$%&*!

--John Bussert is president of Swift Technologies (Marengo, Ill.), a company specializing in AS/400 and Windows NT software.