Every time I mention my RSI people suggest that I use voice recognition software. I do use it. And though I hate it I know that it has transformed gazillions of people’s lives. There are people who literally could not write without it. For them VRS is a wonderful transformative thing. Bless, voice recognition software!
I am well aware that what VRS is trying to do is unbelievably complicated. Recognising spoken language and reproducing it as written language is crazy hard.1 The way we make sense of what someone says is not just about recognising sounds. We humans (and other sentient beings) are also recognising context and bringing together our extensive knowledge of our own culture every time we have a conversation. And even then there are mishearings and misunderstandings. Also remember one of the hardest things for VRS is for it to distinguish between the speaker’s sounds and other noises. Humans have no problem with that.
I know my posts here about VRS have been cranky so I’ll admit now that there are moments when I almost don’t hate it: VRS is a much better speller than I am. That’s awesome. And sometimes its mistakes are so funny I fall over laughing. Who doesn’t appreciate a good laugh?
I use VRS only for e-mails and blog posts. And sometimes when I chat. But I usually end up switching to typing because it simply cannot keep up with the pace of those conversations and I can’t stand all the delays as I try to get it to type the word I want or some proximity thereof. But mostly I don’t chat much anymore.
But I gave up almost straight away on using it to write novels. Here’s why:
1. The almost right word is the wrong word for fiction.
Near enough SIMPLY WILL NOT DO. I cannot keep banging my head against the stupid software getting it to understand that the word that I want is “wittering” NOT “withering.” THEY DO NOT MEAN THE SAME THING.
Recently it refused to recognise the word “ashy.” Now, I could have said “grey.” But guess what? I did not mean “grey” I meant “ashy.”
The almost right word is fine for an e-mail. Won’t recognise how I say “fat”? Fine, I’ll say “rotund” or “corpulent” or whatever synonym I can come up with that VRS does recognise. “I’m going to eat a big, corpulent mango” works fine for an e-mail. However, it will not do for fiction.2
2. Flow is incredibly important.
Most of my first drafts are written in a gush of words as the characters and story come flowing out of me. Having to start and stop as I correct the VRS errors, and try to get it to write what I want it to write, interrupts my flow, throw me out of the story I’m trying to write, and makes me forget the gorgeously crafted sentence that was in my head ten seconds ago.
Now, yes, when I’m typing that gorgeously crafted sentence in my head it frequently turns out to not be so gorgeously crafted but, hey, that’s what rewriting is for. And when I’m typing the sentence it always has a resemblance to its platonic ideal. With VRS if I don’t check after every clause appears I wind up with sentences like this:
- Warm artichoke had an is at orange night light raining when come lit.
- When Angel was able to emerge into the orange night Liam’s reign was complete.
Which is a terrible sentence but I can see what I was going for and I’ll be able to fix it. But that first sentence? Leave it for a few minutes and I’ll have no clue what I was trying to say.
However, checking what the VRS has produced after Every Single Clause slows me down and ruins the flow.
3. It’s too slow.
I am medium fast typist. I’ve been typing since I was fourteen. I can get words down way faster and more accurately than VRS.3 Its slowness is very, very frustrating and is yet another factor that messes with my flow when writing.
Obviously, none of this is a huge problem for e-mail. I do persevere with it for blogging too despite the fact that means I am at most blogging once a month. Using VRS for those kinds of writings does save my arms. I’m grateful.
But for my novel writing? It’s a deal breaker. I can’t do it.
VRS is going to have to take giant strides to get to a point where it allows me to write fiction without grief and frustration and the hurling of head sets across the room.
Again, I’m really glad that it has helped so many of you. I have been hearing lots of wonderful stories about the ways VRS has changed lives since I started writing cranky posts about it. That’s all fabulous.
But for me? No, not yet.
Update: I should have also noted that every time I write one of these posts I get lots of people trying to help. That is very sweet of you and I totally get why. I have the same impulse. We all want to make things better.4
But, yes, it is also kind of annoying and overly helpy. This has been going on for years now. You can safely assume that unless you are suggesting a very recent breakthrough or a very left-field obscure idea—WEAR A ROTTEN WOMBAT ON YOUR HEAD—I have heard it all before and tried it all.5
So if you were wondering—everything suggested in the comments?—been there, done that.
Update the Second
Am getting many folks telling me that the error rate in the orange night example above is crazy high. You got me. I deliberately chose a super bad example because it’s funnier. My bad. Next time I rant about this I promise to choose a less crazy and amusing one, okay?
Funny thing, though, even the best VRS error rate I’ve ever managed is incredibly annoying and slows me down.
Update the Third
Thanks so much for all the lovely letters & comments of sympathy, support, me toos, and commiseration. Means the world to me.
- Very few humans are one hundred per cent accurate at the task. Even court reporters make occasional mistakes. [↩]
- Actually I’m now thinking of all sorts of ways in which it would work for fiction but you get my point, people. [↩]
- And, wow, am I not the world’s most accurate typist. [↩]
- Unless we have an evil streak a mile wide. Ha! VRS rendered “a mile wide” as “a mild way.” Bless. [↩]
- Well, not the wombat thing. But only because I can’t get past the smell of roadkill. And the fear of putrescence dripping down my face. [↩]