Words straining for inner demons to burst out
THE CENTURY was an infant when I first tried writing without typing, writing by speaking into a microphone on a headset. It was eminently mind-blowing. You’d say a phrase, like “eminently mind-blowing”, and there instantly was your screen telling you “eminently mind-blowing”.
It was a short try nonetheless – lumpy and awkward and too many times that it didn’t quite produce “eminently mind-blowing”. It could as easily give you “him in Aunt Hermione bling”, say.
Misreading a syllable could send it into a frolic of its own, wandering off the planet. You want to send the boss’s wife a warm thank-you for dinner, and read “your mother’s moustache has got thinner”.
No one can proofread their own stuff. You know what’s meant to be there, so your eye bypasses an “a” that has become “the” or a “connotation” converted to “contention”, and much between. English has a million innocent-looking words straining for their inner demon to burst out in violent guise. The capacity of “not” to become “now” or vice versa can start wars or end marriages.
My second try, a decade later, opened unhappily. Speaking my reply to an email that had smoke coming out of my ears, I inserted a few intemperate epithets that I knew I’d delete on revision. There was a take-that! satisfaction in blurting them out in the meantime.
My last sentence was going to be “… so either send the stuff right now or we cancel the deal”. That’s an irritated sentence. I suppose I said it in an irritated way, and on the “send” my screen cleared. Whap. Just like that! Shock! Where was my letter? What was happening?
I realised in horror that it wasn’t “happening”, it had happened. On the word “send” the machine had dutifully thought “Oh, okay then” and had sent.
The evidence lurked in sent items, a jagged crude illiterate rant, ending on the unpunctuated “either”. I crawled under a stone. For a week or two.
I could hardly blame the machine. I had to credit it with sharpened hearing. Which, overall, was a boon, though not without other newly created problems as well.
For one, in its older, deafer days it had taken South African vowels in its stride. Now I discover sentences like: “Are see. Are will do it. Are’ll tell you when are am finished.”
That can’t be me! Are have an accent that once in Texas passed for a classic British banker in a radio advert! Are’d love to know what voice recognition makes of Leon Schuster.
But the errors are fewer and the convenience is great. I’m a permanent convert now. On the way, I bumped into the touching story behind voice recognition.
A couple, Dr Jim and Dr Janet Baker, spent from 1975 to 1997 getting this stuff going. They then, advised by Goldman Sachs, sold their baby for around half a billion dollars, payable as shares in the giant Belgian company that bought it. Next thing, the giant Belgian company was no longer a giant, and then no longer a company, and the Bakers’ windfall vanished. Upshot was a suit against Goldman Sachs, and a five-week trial in 2013. The Bakers lost. Inventors and Pioneers, 0. Bankers, 1.
This comes up now because yesterday my speakwriter upped its game.
I have a correspondent, Debra, who has always come out as “Deborah”, fair enough, which I correct by keyboard. Now, replying to an email, my laptop decided by itself that she is “Debra”.
We now know that artificial intelligence is now smarter than humans.