Thursday, September 23, 2010

Voice is Ready for Prime Time

Mike Elgan said so......: Say it with me: Voice is ready for prime time, It's time for the victory of voice to shout down the tyranny of text in this enlightening piece that had many comments all in the positive relative the to advance of technology
Talking is the best user interface...Language is natural to people and universal to all cultures. Language is a spoken medium. Written language is merely the symbolic representation of spoken language. It's an abstraction, but a necessary one.

And he asked But is the technology there yet?. You bet!
In the future, we'll talk to our computers and they'll talk back. We know this is true because talking is the most natural way for human beings to communicate. The evolution of the human-machine interface always moves the workload of interaction from the person to the computer. The perfect UI would be a natural conversation, just like you have with other people.

Could not have said it better myself! This is especially true in the healthcare setting where clinicians are overwhelmed with paper work and documentation requirements. As Mike points out there are hurdles, no insurmountable
  • Technology: creation of software (supported by powerful hardware) that can understand spoken language
  • Technology: content must be searchable. Text can be indexed, and we've grown addicted to the ability to search for and find the things we've written, and
  • Cultural: the barrier to voice-based computer interaction is one of habit. We've grown used to typing on keyboards. Although speaking is natural, speaking to a computer feels a little weird at first. And people generally don't like learning a new way to do things.

In the piece he features three products that address these issues and go much farther VoiceBase for indexing and searching, DialtoDo to convert spoken utterances into action, and as he puts it the Mother of All Voice Applications, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 from Nuance.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking takes dictation so accurately that it begins to approach Steve Jobs' favorite word: "Magical." For the first week of use, I was actually shocked when it correctly recognized obscure names, extremely technical terms, brand names with correct capitalization (for example, iPhone) and performed other unlikely feats. Since I started using it, I've written the first drafts of all of my columns and blog posts, including this column, using Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

But as Mike points out the downside to this innovations, speed and accuracy that is especially relevant to healthcare is the lack of time to think. Many of us use typing time as thinking time....if you lose the typing time you lose the thinking time and generating content becomes a little more challenging at first:
The accuracy has an unexpected and very welcome side effect: It makes it easier to write. I assumed that typing was automatic, requiring little brain power. But using Dragon has demonstrated that mental energy was diverted from the task of typing to the task of thinking, which is what makes writing so much easier. I can also write faster using Dragon.

This requires a change in behavior and an adaptation to the lost thinking time that can make clinicians feel less productive as they have to pause during dictations. But for those that already adapted to dictation and that process is easy (think existing dictating clinicians who use a telephone or hand held recorder device to dictate and generate clinical notes using traditional dictation and transcription) then a move to dictating directly to your PC is one step closer.

But be warned as he identified "It's not feasible yet for most people to completely abandon keyboards, mice and text and interact entirely via the spoken word." - so don't try to make that happen or expect it to happen. Again think of the telephone and texting - in some respects Texting could be considered a retrograde step but for many (read millions) texting is preferable to actually using the phone to speak to someone.

Embrace the tools that make sense in your work and home life and importantly as I said in this piece at HealthCareIt Guy Blog: Top 10 tips for successfully using speech recognition in EHRs and healthcare apps spend the money on a good microphone

I'll leave you with Mike's closing comments:
And what can I say about Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11? It's the biggest user interface advance since the iPhone. The bottom line is that voice is finally ready for prime time. I've decided to continue my experiment indefinitely and to keep pushing the voice envelope as far as it will go. Voice makes using a computer faster, easier and a lot more fun.

How about you - have you made the jump? Can it work for you in your environment and if not what is is the barrier to using voice in your world?