Dragon Case Study 2

Mr G works for the Foreign Office in London and was due to take an examination for a promotion. These exams are online and Mr G had a problem because he had injured his hand and was unable to use a computer keyboard, so I visited him to show him how he could use Dragon instead of a keyboard.

I visited Mr G twice, the first time to show him the basic principles of using Dragon, and the second time to look at how to use it to help him in his examination. Each session was for half a day.

I contacted Mr G after the exam had been taken and he was very happy to be able to tell me that he had passed!

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Dragon Case Study 1

Mrs H in Witney carried out assessments to help identify equipment to help people back to work following illness or an accident. This often involved lengthy journeys, and then writing a report that could run to 15 or 20 pages.

These reports were usually done in the evening or at the weekend, taking up personal time, so Mrs H thought that Dragon would be worth trying. I visited and set the software up for her, and followed this with half a day of training.

Shortly after this I contacted Mrs H to see how things were going and she was able to say that for the first time ever, she was up-to-date with her paperwork!

This is a very similar situation to that which I found myself in when I was carrying out assessments for Access to Work. I was also travelling a lot and finding that I was writing up my reports in my own time, and they had to be completed to a strict deadline, so they couldn’t be put to one side! However, using Dragon meant that I could complete my reports with ease, and the parts that had taken the longest were now taking no time at all – this was preparing three commercial quotations for all the equipment that I recommended.

This is why I am confident that Dragon will help most businesses with their paperwork!

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The future for Dragon

Work is already quite well advanced on using thought or brain waves, and is beginning on developing computers to mimic the human brain – Big Brother is on the way!

A recent newspaper article showed how a woman with muscular dystrophy was able to use a computer powered only by her thoughts to paint a picture of a bunch of flowers, and the reporter who wrote the article was trained to use this software in under two hours so that he could paint a very simple picture of a flower in a flower pot!

This type of use leads me to speculate and I wondered about the possibility of being able to dump the contents of someone’s brain onto a memory stick and upload them to someone else! This leads to the thought that it would no longer be necessary to go to university because you could just upload the contents of your professor’s brain – but that would mean missing out on the learning experience, so no fresher’s week, rag days, or cheap student union bars!

Well, just after thinking this, I picked up a copy of the BBC Science magazine where they were discussing this very thing and apparently, it is being considered! However, it is obviously a very complex idea, and one example discussed was taking the brain contents from someone who loves dogs to someone who is scared of them – this leads to an incompatibility in the experience.


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How is Voice Recognition (Dragon) currently being used?

The Dragon speech engine is being used in a surprisingly different number of ways today, including…

• In call centres to route telephone calls to the correct member of staff.

• In banks to confirm the identity of a caller – voice recognition used to enhance the recognition of a caller’s voice! Each customer provides a voice recording of themselves, and this is used to confirm their identity when they call the bank, rather than having to answer various security questions.

• On smart phones e.g. Siri on the iPhone – I’ve always seen this as more of a ‘toy’ but it is becoming more useful with each release. When my wife had her first iPhone5 she stumbled across Siri and asked me what it was, and when I explained, she asked me what she could ask it, so I said, “ask what is the answer to life, the universe and everything”, which she did, and Siri’s reply was “chocolate!”

• In cars for Satnav

• The Eurofighter Jet requires pilots to create a voice template to control cockpit functions (not weapons!) – this is designed to reduce pilot workloads

• For court reporting (stenography) – it takes less time to train for voice recording than for other equipment

• Home automation – “Computer please turn on the lights”

• Robotics

• Helping people with a disability – it can be life changing

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The history of Dragon software

Dragon speech recognition software was first released in 1997 by Dragon Systems of Massachusetts. The company was founded in 1982 by Dr James Baker, (who had described the principles of a speech recognition system in 1975, releasing Dragon Dictate for DOS). At this time however, the computer hardware was not powerful enough and the software required that users pronounced one word at a time, with a small pause between each, because it could not distinguish the boundary between one word and another during continuous speech.

Dragon Systems was purchased by Lernout & Hauspie, a Belgian company, in 2000, but they were declared bankrupt in November of that year. At that time, it appeared that the software might cease development, but the rights were acquired by ScanSoft in 2005, who also acquired Nuance Communications, and rebranded themselves to Nuance.

The early versions of Dragon used this discrete speech and the results achieved were, to be honest, disappointing and frustrating. When I first started using the software myself, and training people in how to use it, I was working with an organisation called the Foundation for Communication for the Disabled (now AbilityNet), and both the software and the computers systems being used were very expensive, and although many people could see the potential, it was not good enough, bearing in mind that many people using it were simply unable to use a mouse or a keyboard. It also required a great deal of investment in time to ‘train’ the software to recognise your voice, by reading aloud long lists of words and commands as they were displayed on the screen.

A competitor was available with an IBM product called ViaVoice but development did not match that of Dragon, and the voice commands available were a bit limited when compared with Dragon. In my view, the accuracy was not as good either, and the product is no longer supported.

Gradual improvements in the technology began from the release of version 5 and now, people were able to speak continuously. My own feeling is that from version 9 and 10, the software was beginning to become more usable, so that not only could it be used at home, but also in the office environment. Much of the training that I completed at this time was as a result of assessments for the Access to Work scheme, a government grant still available to help provide some support and equipment for people with a disability in the workplace.

Even now though, if you speak to people about their own experience with the software, they would probably describe it as disappointing, and in the office, the IT support teams would almost certainly say that it did not work!

The software itself was gradually improving so that the speech engine, the component that recognises what is said, was becoming more accurate, the hardware was becoming more powerful (and cheaper!), and the quality of the microphones available to use was also improving, so that Nuance claims a very high accuracy level for the latest version, 12.

Windows also has a free version of speech recognition, and it can work for some people, but the list of commands available is a bit limited, and I do not believe it is as powerful as Dragon. It is also quite frustrating to use, whereas Dragon is more natural.

Nuance acquired the rights to a speech recognition program for MAC called Macspeech several years ago, and rebranded it as Dragon Dictate for MAC, currently available as version 4. It is not yet as flexible as the PC version for those people who need to be able to work hands free, but the accuracy is very good, and development is happening very quickly, so this will improve with each successive release!

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