One April, 11 and a half years ago, Hollywood actor Richard Dreyfuss presented a new type of software that was going to 'revolutionise business'. He had been paid to host the launch of Dragon's NaturallySpeaking application, which could faultlessly translate spoken words into text. If this worked, we could chuck away our keyboards. Productivity would multiply. Dragon would become the new Microsoft and a new era of IT would dawn.
And work it did too -- in the demonstration. But not everything about the event was quite so well stage-managed. New York was suffering its worst ever blizzard and few made it through the snow. One year later, founders Janet and Jim Baker hadn't found the mass market they may have anticipated. That year, a Belgian firm called Lernout & Hauspie introduced Voice-Express, another desktop speech software product that could potentially free us all from the tyranny of crouching over a keyboard, ruining our posture and giving ourselves RSI. In a demo, it even outperformed the world's fastest typist.
So why aren't we using this software on every computer in the land? Why aren't we talking to computers, telling them what we want to do? How come Windows and Mac OS remained the user interfaces of choice, when voice commands would be so much more efficient and user friendly? Especially as speech dictation has become part of so many phone calls to buy tickets, report meter readings and query bills?
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