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Smart watches - speech recognition - ARCHIVE 1997

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Nokia 9000 Series and Speech Recognition.

ARCHIVE PAGE 1997 FOR INTEREST

Nokia data phone

US model above - now available and slightly larger than European model. Mobile phone with computer, 8 meg RAM, modem, fax, e-mail and web surfing as well as short message service, diary, word processor and other features. It is more reliable than most PCs, requires little or no setting up, has an Internet connection which can be programmed by radio messages and has a 30 hour battery life on standby. It works in 140 nations and is a complete mobile office. It fully integrates information so, for example, when someone phones, their full contact details flash onto the screen including a log of all incoming and outgoing calls, faxes and e-mails. Forwarding an e-mail is as simple as pressing a button. The keyboard is a little small but the author has written a magazine article on it and e-mailed it to the publisher. The phone also operates as a hands free, allowing others to take part and the user to consult the diary or make a note. Conference calls can be set up almost instantly. It has a serious defect which is lack of a built in camera, which would fit in either round circle near the top of the screen.

Hewlett Packard are working on a similar device that will be a quarter of the size or less - possible operated by speech recognition and with a "head up" display in three dimensions on special data glasses worn by the user. Meanwhile, BT are also working on a device worn as a wrist plate with built in colour TV and camera, running off body heat - I wonder how long that will take them to make.

Downloading from PC to Nokia is fast. The other day, I walked into a meeting with one of the world's largest computer companies and confounded them all by announcing that I had in my pocket all the latest data on one of their own products, a product so new that even their sales team had little information. A few seconds later, I had e-mailed the lot (1.2 megabytes of text) into their local office from the restaurant table. Networking had gathered the information, and networking sent it on. Life will never be the same.

Mind control - affecting the brain

However, the Nokia can affect one's mind profoundly. During an intensely busy spell of international management consultancy, which coincided with a blitz of media interviews (see human cloning ), I found I was reacting and responding to e-mails, faxes and other messages with delay time of only minutes for much of the day - whether in a station, on a train, at an airport or in a taxi or in between other meetings. It was my first taste of being completely cybered: in total contact with the whole world who wanted to be in touch, across time zones and cultures, even walking down the street or sitting in the park.

Intelligent watches

When wrist watches all have the same power as the Nokia 9000 series- or greater - with speech, data glasses and other new input devices, we may find that human interaction begins to change profoundly. No doubt, periods of intense cyberlinking will result in a reaction against technology, and a desire to disconnect - even perhaps from the telephone at home when enjoying leisure. Watches are already quite intelligent. I have a Swatch which makes a computer say "hello Dr Dixon" as I go up to it, and seconds later it automatically connects me to the web. The same Swatch can automatically pass me through a ski lift, or onto a plane, deducting value or charging my account as needed

Speech recognition - 145 words a minute

Speech recognition is improving fast. The first systems I worked with in the late 1970s ran on huge mainframes and had a vast vocabulary of 30 words. You could increase this by using each of the first 30 words as a door to open up second sets in a kind of family tree, but it was awful to use. For over a year now, I have had full control over my portable PC using speech: "open wordpad start dictating dear Thomas comma new line thank you for your letter stop new paragraph I agree with you that...." The only problem was that each word needed to be said separately and carefully. Even though the machine learnt by experience, it was hard to do better than 50 words a minute, and that was with some (spectacular) errors.

Now, several companies are boasting new continuous speech recognition programs able to cope with up to 145 words a minute. I admit I was sceptical as I loaded the CD-Rom on Dragon NaturallySpeaking but the results were astounding. First you have to read aloud about 20 minutes of a novel. Then you give it some chunky documents you have written, for it to study your use of language. And then off you go. The faster you speak, the more accurate it can be, as it likes to look at the whole context of what you are saying before putting whole sentences together. And it learns fast. You quickly learn the sort of words to be careful over, and when you can string along a large number of words safely.

In that moment, I saw the end of the keyboard as a routine entry device, although it will always survive for note taking in meetings and any other situation where quietness is important or you don't want others to hear what you are saying. If you want to see some results, take a look at the article on bugging which was "written" in a few minutes and corrected using Dragon. These speeds mean that creating the first draft of a sizeable book will take less than fifteen hours in the future, far faster than most authors can think.

Expect a stampede by software companies, each boasting an 0.5% or 1% improvement in accuracy (very significant since correcting is 20 times slower than dictating. Expect dedicated speech recognition chips in thousands of devices by 2000. Expect a big labour force adjustment with loss of copy typing and dictaphone to word processor work. Expect a massive retraining effort by 2005 to give hundreds of secretaries "added value" skills such as desktop publishing, accounting and database management.

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