How accurate is Dragon for PC?

The latest version of Dragon (NaturallySpeaking 12) is very accurate straight from the box and most people should be able to achieve high levels of accuracy.

If this is not the case, there are some simple steps that can be taken to improve accuracy.

Firstly, ensure that you are using a good quality microphone! Generally speaking, a USB headset will be sufficient, but imagine if the quality is low – Dragon will hear your voice through a wave of interference and this is bound to affect it’s accuracy!

Secondly, Dragon is an application that requires a lot of resource, so run it on the best PC or laptop that you can afford. If your PC is slightly low on power you may experience a lag between what you say, and those words appearing in your document.

There are several tools available within Dragon such as the Accuracy Centre, which will help to improve accuracy, and this should be run on a regular basis.

These steps can be taken by anyone when they set Dragon up initially. I will be covering more at a later date, and cover many techniques to make sure that Dragon is as accurate as possible during my training. The worst thing that could happen is that you try Dragon out of the box, find it is not very accurate and give up! There are always good reasons why the accuracy may not be very high!

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Does Dragon really work?

Does Dragon really work?

Many people may have tried Dragon in the past and had a less than rewarding experience with it, and given up as a result. My own experience over the last twenty years has been to see it improve beyond all recognition! I use it myself all the time now, partly to keep my hand in for training purposes, and partly because it saves me so much time! However, I recognise that many people thinking of trying it now may have heard of a bad experience from a friend or work colleague, and will ask themselves “does Dragon really work?”.

It looks like there will be some tremendous advances in the near future, making voice recognition even better!

I have just been reading an interesting article written by Vlad Sejnoha, the chief technology officer for Nuance Communications, and he is writing about the age of intelligent computer systems, beyond simple voice recognition.

He states that there have been some remarkable advances in the field of voice recognition and natural language understanding (NLU), or how Dragon understands what you are saying.

The pace of innovation is quickening with virtual assistants such as Siri evolving into intelligent systems. He sees the accuracy of voice recognition continuing to improve because of a combination of things including the use of  a complex modelling approach, including a technique that is currently popular loosely based on theories of how the brain performs pattern recognition. This is called deep belief networks.

Devices will be more able to discriminate against background noise, particularly in city streets and in cars, and the device will be more aware of the user and implied context of what is being said.

It will no longer be necessary to pick a device up and turn it on before use. The device can be woken from sleep mode by natural voice commands, will then interpret those commands, and act upon them.

Natural language processing will be smarter with integration with AI, and you will be able to say something like “check if John and Amy can come for dinner tomorrow night”. Your mobile assistant will then confirm restaurant availability, determine which John and Amy you mean from your contacts, contact their mobile assistants to check their dairies, make the reservation and compose an email to them with the relevant information!

If it is working in all these ways, it make sense to suggest that it will work on a computer because that is the platform where a lot of development has taken place!

Can it really help business people?

Yes, I believe it can and use it myself, although it may depend on the type of work that you do. It is very well suited for use in Microsoft Word and Outlook. Most people would expect to complete their paperwork at least three times faster using Dragon.

Is it very accurate?

Yes, I type at 120 words a minute with my voice.

Is it difficult to learn?

No, but this very much depends upon what you want to achieve – you can control your computer with voice commands (and it doesn’t usually answer back!)

What happens if I have an accent?

It may take a while longer to get used to how you speak, but there is no reason it shouldn’t work. It sounds a bit silly to say it, but part of the problem is how to adjust the background settings to help the software recognise an accent, and part is knowing how to speak to it! I have done a lot of work with people from Yorkshire and I always joked with them about their accents, which I love, but they would say something like “I’m going ‘t shops” and Dragon cannot possibly understand this immediately!

Keep checking back here because I will shortly post some tips on how to get the best out of your Dragon!

How is it used on a computer?

Typically to dictate text into Microsoft Word, into emails, and to search the Internet. Dragon can be used just for dictating text, or if you prefer to control your computer by voice. Some of the tasks that can be controlled with voice commands are also much faster than typing!

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Dragon and dyslexia

I’m often asked whether Dragon will also help people with dyslexia and the answer is a very definite yes, and I have helped many to improve the quality of their paperwork with voice recognition software!

When I visit, I ask what are the biggest problems with paperwork and very often the response is “I know what I want to write but I just cannot get it onto the paper, but I can talk about it!”

That response virtually justifies using Dragon with some qualifications…

Firstly, if you can talk about it, you can clearly write it, because this is what Dragon does!

Interestingly however, it does not make spelling mistakes because it has such a large vocabulary. So proof reading is still very important and Dragon provides two tools to help make this process easier. It is also possible to ensure that words such as ‘weather’ and ‘whether’ are used in the correct context.

I often carry out timing exercises near the end of a training session to see how long it takes someone with dyslexia to type a piece of text, and how long it takes to do the same piece of work with Dragon – the answer is generally that Dragon is generally three of four times faster than typing and the record is nine times faster!

An added bonus is that the quality of writing is also better as people with dyslexia often use shorter words that are simpler to spell, and say that this makes their work look unprofessional, but when using Dragon they can easily use better vocabulary and often to think about what they are doing to stop waffling!

I recently carried out training for a lady in Kent who had to submit a piece of work and when it was returned with no errors, she commented that she nearly had a heart attack because this never happened!

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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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