Meet my voice mutilating software
I’m writing this with voice recognition software. If that sounds scintillating and newfangled, you’ve obviously never used what should more accurately be described as voice mutilating software.
I’ll go into more detail in a minute, but, in the meantime, here are just three of the versions of the first sentence of this column offered by my voice murdering software:
1. To running splits recognition software.
2. But wearing this voice which uses raft snares.
3. List softly, Felicity, poignantly stealthily and a half.
Who is this Felicity? you ask. I have no idea. But if your next impulse is to shout “holy word salad, Batman”, you’d better do it very slowly and clearly.)
The trouble all started a few weeks back when I suffered a back injury which left me feeling like Vesuvius and a lightning bolt of liquid ice were cage fighting in my shoulder.
The good news is that the prognosis is positive. The bad news is that, for the moment, sitting up at a desk typing is out of the question.
For someone whose livelihood depends on the floral arrangement of letters on electronic pages, this is a joyless development, to say the least.
Losing my keyboarding ability is on par with a footballer losing their foot, an abseiler losing their abs or a flood victim scammer losing their ability to lose the last shreds of their human decency.
Really quite disruptive.
It’s also been a shock to discover the vast number of daily activities which require the tapping of things other than full alphanumeric keyboards: pin number entering, iThing touch-screening, smart washing machine de-fragging…
Can these tasks be successfully performed via the use of elbows, nostrils or impotent fury-powered telekinesis? My experimentation suggests not.
After the initial shock of being rendered prostrate by a frozen-yet-on-fire shoulder, I embarked on the standard grief cycle of denial, bargaining, depression, raging against the slings and arrows of outrageous injury, and hurling stupid sums of money at the problem.
I also spent a brief period trying to be James Stewart from Rear Window, though so far none of the neighbours have been considerate enough to either kill each other or be Grace Kelly.
Then someone suggested voice recognition software and – having realised the bedridden vigilante detective thing wasn’t a viable alternative career – I hurled a stupid sum of money at an online software shop.
When the huge cardboard box containing the tiny installation disc first arrived in the mail, I twitched and very nearly raised myself up onto a second pillow with excitement.
My injury flunkies had help me set up a sort of mattress/stomach desk and as I powered up my lap top from the supine position, I wondered – in true Homer Simpson fashion – why I’d waited for incapacitating injury before investigating the delicious possibility of wage-slaving while lying down.
The answer soon became hair-tearingly obvious.
Voice recognition software – or at least my voice recognition software – doesn’t “work” so much as “translate the world into absurdly flighty logorrhoea”.
Great if you happen to be Eugène Ionesco, Hunter S. Thompson or the subject line conjurer of scam emails.
Not so great if you’d rather not write surrealisms such as “lithe the moss balded residents of Psalm long forgotten nursing home” every three out of two sentences.
Admittedly, at least part of the problem is my own silly fault.
Like all impatient techno consumers, I installed my new program – let’s call her Vera – and attempted to make her go without reading any of her instructions.
Not surprisingly, Vera’s response was to stare back blankly with a vacant though unmistakably up yours-ish expression.
I then took the radical step of consulting her zillion-page user manual, during which I stumbled across a micro-fonted disclaimer from her manufacturers saying (and I am not making this up) that she may well be defective and unfit for any particular purpose.
Embarrassed, no doubt, that I’d uncovered the unsightly state of her end user licensing agreement, Vera finally agreed to negotiate. But only with minimum accuracy and maximum abstruseness.
“This dictating to an inanimate object is weird,” I said to her.
“This is Duke Ellington learning subtexts,” she responded.
“Hold on a minute,” I replied. “That’s nothing like what I just said.”
“Oh, other minuet,” was Vera’s riposte. “There is nothing like a registry. Felicity?”
She then crashed. Repeatedly. I tried not to take it personally but couldn’t avoid concluding that she wanted to commit the computer equivalent of suicide rather than work with me.
That was around the time I sought the assistance of a specialised trainer who is acting as a kind of high tech marriage counsellor to help me and Vera resolve our differences.
For starters, I’m trying to be more open minded about the fact that English is Vera’s second language after one-and-zero-ese.
I’ve also accepted that yelling feisty swearwords at her doesn’t do any good at all – especially since she keeps typing my abusive rants into emails and sending them to News Ltd executives.
(To add embarrassment to insult, she spells the expletives perfectly yet presents recipients’ names like the textual versions of interpretative dance. Once again, really sorry about that, Rootbeer Murdlock.)
Basically, if I talk to her in a steady, dalek-type tone, she accurately transcribes about 50 per cent of what I’ve said including sighing, breathing and sniffling.
The rest of the time: word coleslaw.
Like a blind person whose other senses develop more acutely to compensate, however, I do seem to be gaining an increasing appreciation of Vera’s bizarre tone poems.
“Pringle correct pre-world, Felicity,” she wrote just now. “Heavy for them not on a decimal way like it is opaque, but if I’d put the timing of the amazing 82 minus all eat two bonus.”
Scary how much sense that makes.
One day I forgot to turn off Vera’s highly sensitive microphone when I left to go to the doctor, and she transcribed three hours of daily life in my absence.
Someone – I suspect my four-year-old daughter – is recorded as saying “my school is going to be so crowded about my invisible friends”.
There are also textual versions of car horns, passing aeroplanes and a street argument between neighbours in which the phrase “you selfish motherfactor” appears with stunning frequency.
There are no Aesop-esque morals to this story except: avoid ever getting injured; always be able to engage in oldfangled typing; and don’t try any of this home.
Also: if you’re thinking of using voice mangling software, I’d definitely suggest changing your name to Felicity.
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