It must be my thick Romanian accent that is preventing my speech recognition program from understanding what the heck I’m saying. I followed the directions and it’s not as though I haven’t tried to work with it both diligently and patiently. I’ve spoken to it directly, cajoled it and yelled at it -nothing has worked so it must be the accent. This theory only suffers from two primary flaws. First, I’m not in the least bit Romanian and, second, I do not possess a noticeable accent. Still, the computer is having great difficulty in understanding my plain speech. Clearly it is my fault. I have honestly tried to train the computer just as the manual suggested. I’ve run through various training sessions on speech recognition included with the software. I now suspect these are included to build a false sense of security and accomplishment. By the time I reached the third training session, by way of example, I was able to speak at a comfortable speed.
It did seem as though the program was more interested in training me than receiving my input but I chalked that up to tweaking the program to me, the individual user. Some break-in time is always needed whether it’s a new car or a new computer program. I tried and, by the end of hours of work, I even managed to control some of the other programs through voice commands. Success!
Then I tried to actually use the recognition software while writing this little article. It turns out that I was less trainable than I had presumed. I noticed that I was having some difficulty in making myself understood. For example, the sentence above that starts with “It even offers the advice…” came out as “and even offers the pipes…” Now, I’m all for sharing and passing the pipe around, to recall an old John Denver song, but that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind today. The program seems to have an especially hard time when shore birds with short words such as “it”, “the” and anything that starts with a vowel sound.
It’s not as though I’m completely hopeless with computers. I remember the old days of ms-dos with a certain degree of fondness and I even did well in the only programming class that I took in college. Back then, computers were understood to be awfully dumb in general but very fast at adding and subtracting ones and zeroes. People bossed the computers - not the computers bossing us. Computers now are lightning fast at adding those ones and zeroes (but never twos and threes) but somewhere along the way, the computer became the infallible, a modern day oracle, all-knowing if inscrutable rather than a dumb machine.
The new default position when anything that goes wrong is that the fault lies with the person operating the system. In the old days, this was known as “bad programming” and was considered bad form since the program was supposed to serve people. In the intervening years since my first computer experiences, purveyors of such programming have decided that people are utter idiots that should under no circumstances be allowed to do more than hit a button and wait for commands. The user is the commanded, not the commander. Control, other than to set the pretty colors of the background, was wrested away from us.
So instead of the computer actively trying to learn my speech patterns, it shows every inclination of trying to force me into speaking like some plastic smiling news anchor for the local television station, the kind whose lips make those exaggerated pulls and purses practiced in the mirror while enunciating. each. word. slowly. It passively-aggressively refuses to acknowledge spoken words or will insert some nattering of barely phonetically related text but will enter a random “and” or “in” or “Then” at the mere sound of breathing.
That doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on beating the speech recognition into compliance. While rotten form for raising children, I have no moral qualms about verbally abusing my computer. I’ve gotten very good with several commands. “Undo that” is a particular favorite along with “Correct that.” Even then, with “Correct that” I can’t get it to recognize the phrase I am using and have to resort to “Spell it.” Have you ever tried to spell a word to a computer program that doesn’t hear an “H” and simply cannot understand “V as in Victor?”
I have tried some other commands of the sort that you might hear the in hallway of your local high school but these don’t seem to be programed into the system and, several at least, involve organic body parts the computer does not possess. Still, it lowers my blood pressure a bit and I’m exploring new avenues of creativity in that genre.
I remember the proper relationship between human and computer. So when I am “training” (beating into submission) the computer, if I sound as though I’m talking to a particularly stubborn and, perhaps, not too-bright two year old, I certainly don’t feel a bit guilty.