Technology Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.

Voice Recognition Software

After the Internet, the most important technology for lawyers during the next generation will probably be voice recognition software. The idea that computers could understand human speech is several decades old in science fiction, several years old in reality and now becoming a practical fact. Some experts predict that keyboards eventually will not be needed for future computers. Transcription of dictated letters, real estate documents and pleadings no longer will require the effort of a human typist, and lawyers who do not type or suffer from a disability will have lost an excuse not to use computers in their practice. Many of the less expensive voice recognition programs available today require the speaker to pause . . . between . . . words . . . and enunciate . . . very . . . clearly. However, many of the new high- end programs promise the ability to comprehend users enunciating normally. All voice recognition software programs require at least a Pentium equivalent computer, the faster the better, and lots of RAM. In addition, the computer must have a sound card and a microphone. Many voice recognition programs come with a microphone and headset, but lawyers who like to dictate while moving around may want to invest in a high quality hand-held microphone with a long cord or a wireless microphone.

This column reviews several voice recognition programs. Some software vendors provided copies or demonstration versions of their programs; other reviews are based on information obtained from the Internet. The programs reviewed are Dragon NaturallySpeaking, IBM ViaVoice, Kurzweil VoicePad, Philips Speech Magic and Voice Pilot. The manufacturers' web sites are listed in the sidebar. Many of the products reviewed are available from 21st Century Eloquence, which specializes in service and support for voice recognition products (www.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Dragon Systems claims that its NaturallySpeaking is the world's first large vocabulary, general purpose, continuous speech recognition program. The company would not provide a demonstration version of any of its products for this review. The web site product description claims a user can dictate 160 words or more per minute with a 95% or greater accuracy, without pausing between words. The program includes a 30,000 word built-in vocabulary and a total vocabulary of over 230,000 words. This program, like the others, allows the addition of new words to the vocabulary and claims to be able to learn accents, dialects and individual pronunciation idiosyncrasies quickly and naturally.

NaturallySpeaking apparently requires the user to dictate into a special voice recognition program and then retrieve the text file into the user's word processing software. It appears to be compatible with many popular word processing programs. The company says the dictation files retain their formatting when imported into word processing programs. The basic program is available for under $200, with more full featured versions costing more. The program requires at least a 133 MHz Pentium computer, with Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0, a 16 bit sound card, 60 megabytes of hard disk space and 32 to 48 megabytes of RAM.

IBM VoiceType and ViaVoice

IBM provided a copy of its VoiceType 3.0 software promptly on request. VoiceType is a "discrete" voice recognition program, requiring a slight pause between words, and is widely available for under $50. It is compatible with most Windows programs, allowing the user to give verbal commands to the computer operating system and programs. The user can dictate into most popular word processing programs, pull down menus and issue commands to the program, all verbally. The user can dictate up to 100 wpm with accuracy up to 97%. It is necessary to train the program for greater accuracy, but the program is designed to learn the user's voice, and there is a noticeable improvement in accu-racy with use. Minimum system requirements are Windows 95, a 100 MHz Pentium computer, a sound card, 16 megabytes of RAM and 30 megabytes of hard disk space. IBM also offers specialized vocabularies, including a 25,000 word legal vocabulary.

IBM recently released ViaVoice for Windows 95 and Windows NT. ViaVoice is available for under $100 (for the basic version, or higher for more full featured versions) and is advertised as a large vocabulary, general purpose, continuous speech dictation software. The user can dictate into ViaVoice's own speech recognition word processor or into another word processing program. The system can read back the dic-tated text aloud. As with VoiceType, training is necessary, and ViaVoice also learns the user's dictation style. The program requires a 166 MHz Pentium computer or a 150 MHz MMX Pentium computer, 32 to 48 megabytes of RAM, a CD ROM drive, a 16 bit sound card and 100 megabytes of hard disk space.

Kurzweil VoicePad

Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, Inc. offers a free downloadable trial version of its VoicePad at its web site. VoicePad for Windows is advertised as the world's first voice-enabled word processing application. The downloadable evaluation release includes an 11,500 word vocabulary, with the ability to add 500 words. A user can dictate up to 2,500 words with the free copy. With training, accuracy can be 97% or higher. Use of the program is very simple; this writer's grade school aged children were able to train and accurately use the program. The program asks the age and gender of the user, apparently adjusting to the voice tones of various ages and both genders. The program executes computer commands within the program. The downloadable file for Windows 95 is 5.81 megabytes; for Windows 3.1 the file is 8.21 megabytes. The evaluation release requires the minimum of a Pentium computer, five megabytes of dedicated RAM, 20 megabytes of hard disk space, Windows 95 or Windows 3.1, a sound card, speaker system and microphone. Kurzweil VoicePadPro 1.0 is available for under $100.

Philips SpeechMagic

Philips Electronics North America Corp. markets speech processing products, including PC based digital dictation systems and continuous speech recognition products. SpeechMagic offers a 60,000 word vocabulary and runs under Windows. A unique characteristic of Speech Magic is that it allows an assistant to correct errors. After the lawyer dictates the document, both the typed version and the sound file are forwarded to the secretary, who can listen to the dictation and correct errors. The program, like many other speech recognition programs, learns the user's voice, including the user's accent and frequently used words. The program can be used in a stand-alone system or in a network environment. Philips SpeechMagic is used by other companies for more specialized end user products. SpeechLaw, Inc. markets add-ons to SpeechMagic for practitioners in real estate, personal injury, commercial law and bankruptcy, worker's compensation, criminal law, securities, family law and other areas.

Voice Pilot

Voice Pilot is based on the IBM VoiceType engine. It provides additional dictation and personal information management tools, including a calendar, project planner, address book and memo pad. Voice Pilot has essentially the same system requirements as the IBM VoiceType program and is no more difficult to install and operate. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) users will appreciate the ability to use IRC chat rooms verbally. One of the principals of the company is a lawyer and its products are well designed for the law office environment. Voice Pilot provided an off-the-shelf copy of its program and a beta copy of its next release promptly after a request for review.

General Comments

Voice recognition programs put large demands on computer resources and are disappointing performers on slow computers without large amounts of RAM. Any lawyer or firm seriously considering voice recognition software should invest in a fast computer, lots of RAM and a high quality microphone. The accu-racy of the programs appear to be closely related to the quality and positioning of the microphone. Products on the market now may not live up to the expectations of science fiction fans, but law firms likely will begin widespread use of these products to improve produc- tivity, reduce overhead and maintain competitiveness. Many law firms may need to upgrade their hardware to fully use voice recognition software. Nevertheless, with the continuing drop in computer prices, a one-time investment in computer resources may be more cost effective for some purposes than an ongoing investment in human resources for the often tedious task of transcription.

Technology_Property Editor: Kevin J. Dunlevy, Best & Flanagan, PLLP, 4000 First Bank Place, 601 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55402-4331, e-mail:


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