ShortTalk: Dictation Made Rewarding

Experimental Evidence

How does it work in practice? How frequent are ShortTalk commands? How many of them are used?

There is only one way of answering: record all activity of a user over some period of time. Such a transcript is available in a large file (5.3Mb), which shows my own activity over a period. Dictated text has been replaced by “x”'s for reasons of privacy.

The transcript reveals that on average, a ShortTalk command is issued per two words dictated, and that approximately 500 different commands are used (out of about 76,000 commands issued). [Here, we have not counted the use of spelling using alpha-bravo words as commands; also, different search strings are not considered important. If this intensive use of commands is typical, then it provides a striking explanation for the inefficiency of current dictation systems: since on average a ShortTalk command corresponds to several words in a natural language system, a dictation system user would mainly be speaking commands if the same effects were too be obtained. In contrast, a ShortTalk command is on average less than two syllables, which is the effort added per two words of dictation. These numbers support our claim, we believe, that the clumsiness and vagueness of natural language makes it a markedly bad choice as a carrier of editing intentions from human to machine.

Finally, we mention that our logs show that a substantial number of keystrokes, almost all spread over some 20 keys, is necessary to accomplish repetitive tasks efficiently. In my case, I am using a foot keyboard, which is part of a foot rest. A compelling alternative—an obvious one—is a reduced, low-impact keyboard designed to complement speech recognition. It would consist of large, nicely separated control keys for use by hand. The same idea applies to the tablet PC.