best on
042:leisure:computers An Independent Educational Net Magazine englishtimes.net


TALK TO YOUR COMPUTER front      help

Even if you never use computer systems at home or at work, you probably realise that modern life is often organised and controlled by them, and we are becoming increasingly dependent.

Diverse activities like the cinema, farming, transport, music, forensics, teaching, banking, travel, and the lottery, all use computers.


Your keyboard, with over a hundred switches switches, evolved from the mechanical typewriter. Although it needed new technologies, it retained the alpha-numeric key layout, originally chosen to prevent the long key stems from jamming.

Some see this random layout as an obstacle to typing, but maybe we just have too many ideas, too many words, too many keys, and too many fingers.

The keys quickly mutated, attaching themselves to televisions, microwaves, stereos, telephones ... even wrist watches. The television and video remote control is typical. Apart from changing channels, many of the other functions remain unknown, unless we press a button by mistake.

For most people, communicating with a computer means pressing keys, moving a mouse, or touching the screen. Repetitive physical tasks that need great care and precision, prevent a comfortable sitting position, and can easily become tiring and dull.

Talking to your friends just means talking. Talking is enjoyable, often illogical, evocative, and wonderfully ambiguous. But so interesting and so effective.


Anyone who enjoys films about the future, like Star Trek, will know that people can talk to computer systems. Although, we think that this technology is not here now, it is. You can buy software for less that 100 which allows you talk to your computer and see your words appear on screen, as fast as you can talk, with very few mistakes. It works on a normal modern computer, so you don't need rows of flashing lights and spinning tapes.

But, why would you want to talk to your computer? The simple answer is that we're quite good at talking, and quite bad at typing. Actually, very good at talking. And very bad at typing.

And why would you want a computer to talk back to you. Because when we read text on screen we don't seem to notice all the mistakes, poor phrasing, repetitions, meandering sentences, incomplete ideas, and missing punctuation. But have it read back to you, and you'll notice straight away. And you get to rest your eyes and get on with something else.


So, Talk To Your Computer is a simple magical phrase used for voice input and output technologies. But what's it really about. Here are some of the names:

IBM, L+H, Dragon, Philips, Kurzweil, Talking Technologies, Via Voice, Voice Xpress, Talk Mics, Naturally Speaking, Free Speech 2000, Speech Pro, Speech Mikes, Talk Back 2002, Simply Speaking, Voice Type, Dragon Dictate, and Voice Plus.

Speech recognition and voice synthesis technologies are quick to install, simple to set up, and easy to use. You can buy one on-line, install it in five minutes, train it in ten minutes, and then start work.

However, speech recognition isn't perfect. But don't be put off by it's built-in disappointment factor. When you make a typing mistake you don't blame the keyboard. You just correct it, and carry on. It's exactly the same with speech recognition. It doesn't mean that it's still an infant technology and you've wasted your money.


Most of you would love to give up typing and let the computer listen. I'm not telling you to sell your keyboard. It's a very flexible, practical, interface between you and whatever it is that your computer does for you. But it comes in second place for getting text on screen.

Also, it's not just about you doing the talking. Computers can talk back, with realistic voices, and in other languages. They can even translate pages of text, whilst you visit the coffee shop.

They'll soon be asking us if they can leave work early on Friday, or delay starting the financial projections for a few days. Initially, we can bribe them with upgrades - but what then?

So, how can we, and how should we, talk to computers. And how can they talk to us, and what will they tell us. Are we interesting and are they interested.

It's already quite easy to talk to computers, and let them talk back. It doesn't get the prize for conversation. But, soon, talking with machinery, technology, androids and biotechnology, will become an easy dialogue.

However, most of you don't know any androids and would rather just avoid typing and give your eyes a rest.

So, what's going to stop you trying out some of this stuff? It's easy to use, like a toaster or a telephone. Of course, it's OK to fail at things sometimes but, if you can't use it, it's almost certainly something you're doing wrong, or not doing right. Or your computer is about to auto-destruct.

You can forget typing and chasing the mouse. Just talk to your computer, a bit like talking to a friend, and put your words on screen. Change your mind, punctuate, edit, and format.

It doesn't mean, yet, that you can speak carelessly and capriciously and then expect the computer to fix it for you. Remember that, in this human-computer relationship, you're still supposed to be the clever one.


Do you remember, in the film 2001 A Space Oddysey, how Dave talked to the computer Hal 9000. Using current technology, the simple way would be to say, in the middle of conversation, just as Dave did, Open the pod bay doors please, Hal.

The wrong way, which is maybe how you imagine it, would be to say Stop dictation, switch to flight pod, bay doors menu, open, enter key, continue dictation.

It doesn't mean, yet, that you can just wave your hands at the screen and say Make that title under the other title a bit bigger, and the same colour as my beach towel.

Well - you get the idea.


So, it won't be long before you and your computer are chatting away, sharing folders, error messages, and experiences, wasting time together, and learning more and more about less and less.

But right now, why not just Talk To Your Computer and let it talk to you. Make your work easier and your life better.

Don't choose the epitaph I wish I'd spent more time at the office. Find out more.

Copyright and Permission: Talking Technologies 2002

 click to see more 

The English Times
An independent educational internet magazine to help you learn English

Talking Technologies and Originators Copyright 2002