Speech Input: Back to the Future

Heads up, speech developers. Here’s a list of five key things speech input users need in order to help you.

In the early days of desktop speech input, users had a bigger role in developing and honing practical ways of controlling the computer using speech commands.

Some key features that enabled and encouraged this were in place during the early days of DragonDictate in the mid-90s, when a thriving user community experimented with computer command-and-control by speech – and pushed the limits. Speech input lost ground – and the user community contracted – when four competing desktop speech input programs collapsed to just one in the early 2000’s, and around the same time the standard macro language for speech became more difficult. This caused a large chunk of that user community to stop experimenting with speech input commands.

Fast forward more than a dozen years and there’s renewed interest in speech command-and-control, and more players. It’s time to empower the speech input community to start pushing the envelope of speech command-and-control, and at the same time ensure that it’s useful and practical.

Here’s what’s needed:

1. Enable speech input users to write and also record speech macros. Humor me while I spell something out. Speech input users are people who use speech input. Therefore, it’s important that they be able to use speech input to write and record speech macros. This may seem stunningly obvious, but the point has historically been overlooked. Don’t get me wrong –  I’m all for input choice. It’s great to have a way to do this by keyboard, mouse and/or touch as well. But it’s important to include speech input in the mix.

2. Enable users to use variables in commands, e.g. <1-100> Up/Down. The Mac version of Dragon has always lacked this. This is a key reason the Mac version has remained inferior to the Windows version of Dragon for command-and-control.

3. Enable users to change the wording of any existing command. This exists in the Mac version of Dragon, but not the Windows version.

4. Enable users to see a history of commands the computer has heard, and click on a command in the command history to edit that command. The original DragonDictate had this feature, and it made writing, editing and honing macros quick and easy. This feature saved me many, many hours of time. I think this is one of the big reasons there was such big, involved user community in the DragonDictate days. This feature never made it over to NaturallySpeaking even though it was widely and repeatedly requested.

5. Enable users to group, save and share macros and command rewordings. This means we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel, and enables some good defaults to develop.

Thanks for listening.