Vision Thing: Talking to Your Mac

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - On a fine sunny day, a man sits down at his computer and goes to work. But instead of grabbing the mouse or pecking at the keyboard, he leans into a microphone and begins to speak.

"Computer, open 'Vision Thing' for June."

I'm sorry, Andy, but I can't do that.

"Computer, why not?"

I don't understand.

"Computer, open the document seventeen dot zero six Vision Thing dot A G."

I'm sorry Andy, but I can't do that either.

"Computer, why not?"

I don't understand "the document seventeen dot zero six Vision Thing dot A G."

"Computer, open the volume The Iron Age."

Volume The Iron Age is open.

"Computer, open the folder Vision Thing Stuff."

Folder Vision Thing Stuff is open.

"Computer, open the document seventeen dot zero six Vision Thing dot A G."

Document seventeen dot zero six Vision Thing dot A G is open.

"Computer, start ViaVoice."

I'm sorry Andy, but I can't do that.


"Computer, WHY NOT?"

I don't understand "ViaVoice."

"Computer, close the folder Vision Thing Stuff."

Folder Vision Thing Stuff is closed.

"OK. Computer, open the folder Applications."

Folder Applications is open.

"Computer, start ViaVoice."

ViaVoice started.

Voice Over

"Start dictation."

"Speech recognition on the Mac has been a long time coming. Few may remember this now, but the Mac had command-and-control speech recognition long before the PC did. I was at the debut-former Apple Computer Inc. CEO John Sculley on stage with speech-recognition wunderkind Kai-Fu Lee-as the first command was given to Casper, as what would ultimately come to be known as PlainTalk was then code-named. It worked. And the audience went wild.

"Correct 'skull.' Cap S-c-u-l-l-e-y.

"Once PlainTalk arrived in the System Folder it was allowed to languish, never more than a cute trick you could use to entertain your friends. It wasn't until many years later that speech recognition in the Mac OS got a much-needed update. With OS 9, command-and-control in the OS finally got usable.

"And, of course, Apple didn't deliver the biggest innovation in recognition: dictation. Thanks largely to IBM's efforts, dictation now works, and works well, on the Macintosh. Yes, there is still some work left to perfect it, especially in terms of integration with other applications, but IBM's ViaVoice continuous speech recognition is an amazing step forward.

"Correct 'four words.' Pick 1.

"Want to know more about how to get speech recognition to really work on your Mac today? Check out our special report in this issue."

Speech Impediment

"The real shame is, as far as we have come, the Mac is still behind Windows in speech recognition, especially in getting it to work consistently in all applications. I don't blame this on the developers. I blame this on Apple.

Apple could be doing a whole lot more to make it possible for companies to fully integrate speech software into the operating system. Users shouldn't have to build their own AppleScripts to get speech recognition to do basic things, like access menu commands.

"And there should be a standard way of connecting dictation to applications so that all features work in all applicable software. For example, we shouldn't have to give up direct correction of misinterpreted words just because we happen to be using an unsupported application.

"Correct 'mist interpreter.' Pick 2.

"And perhaps the best opportunity Apple has to fulfill the potential of this technology is just around the corner: Mac OS X. In the modern Mac OS, Apple could reinvent the user interface by making voice a standard way of interacting with the Mac. Not as an add-on, but as a fully and elegantly integrated input method.

"Too bad Apple seems concerned only with making the Mac OS X interface look pretty. The company could be doing for voice what it did for the mouse two decades ago, instead of agonizing over what shade of blueberry the buttons should be. With voice, you wouldn't even have to look at the screen to get work done.

"Transfer to Word.

"Computer, print document."

I'm sorry, Andy, but I can't do that.

"Computer, stick it where the sun don't shine."

Sorry, Andy, I can't find that volume.

Questions? Comments? E-mail them to Andy at

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