iThink:  “Thought to Text” Technology

iThink: “Thought to Text” Technology

I have been struggling, for years, with getting speech-to-text working in a usable way.  About every two years over the last ten, I go out a store, excited, and buy the most recent voice recognition software. I’m always hoping for a break-through.  I’ve tried various versions of ViaVoice and Dragon Dictate. Dictation programs typically require you to read a few paragraphs to train them to your voice.  Other than that, they are fairly easy to use. For the PC and Mac, voice recognition programs have reached an acceptable level of usability.  Today, I can talk and dictate to my computer much faster than I can type.  In fact, this article is being dictated to my Mac on a plane ride from San Francisco to Minneapolis.  It seemed appropriate.

Social graces.

The guy next to me on the plane looks annoyed.  I am using a wired microphone to dictate this story.  Ok, now he is smiling.  He is enjoying the irony.  However, every time I say “period” to end a sentence the woman on the other side of me looks at me…

(Completing this article by typing)

“With Contempt”  is what I was going to say, so I decided to start using the keyboard.  Conservative, tightly wound person that probably thinks iPods are an evil plot.

The reality:  voice recognition, even if it works, does not fit into the social construct of the plane ride, the coffee shop, the bus, the subway, in fact any mass transit system.  It is a solitary endeavor OR completely annoying.  Want to try a fun experiment?  As voice becomes more commonplace in interfacing with devices…when you see someone talking out loud to command to their phone try this:   In a loud voice say  ” A B C 1 2 3″  and make sure it is loud enough for the mic on their phone to hear.  It works and totally screws up the voice recognition. Fun.

Vlingo on my iPhone

While I mentioned Vlingo on my iPhone, I did not mention that it does not work for me.  I am not a voice recognition expert, but I know that the processing power of mobile phones is not at the level of my new Core i7 MacBook (yeah.. it screams!)   In Vlingo’s defense, if you articulate well and speak slowly, it is good for sending text messages and single line emails in a quiet environment.  But it is not as good as laptop or desktop, and that is frustrating.

Don’t drink the Software-As-A-Service Kool Aid

Prediction:  Cloud-based service for Mobile Voice Recognition is a bad direction.  Even in a connected world, there are many places where you do not have either a cell or network connection.  Does it work today?  Sometimes.  However, when voice recognition really works for mobile, it will have to be native and a core function with 100% availability.  SaaS cannot offer that.  I am really surprised that Steve Jobs added the voice command into the iPhone  (Not a SaaS implementation, so they got that piece right). They usually don’t ship stuff that works  50% of the time.  Apple should have tested it in my Jeep.  If you follow the laws of computing, in about 10 years, mobile devices will be able to process voice as good as a desktop/laptop of today.  This will be a convergence of technologies, just like when the evolution from the iPhone to the iPad.  Voice commands will make more sense on the mobile device, just like some applications make sense on the iPad vs. the iPhone due to larger form factor.

What does this mean for technology affecting culture?

It can go in four directions.  First, think:  Do you remember the first time someone had a cell phone conversation, close to you, in a confined space?  How about the first time someone sat in the stall next to you and had a loud cell phone conversation?  How will you react when you are in close quarters and people are talking to their phones, dictating and email, text or tweet?

Direction 1: It will isolate people.  Socially unacceptable,  therefore people will withdrawal to a more quiet location to talk to their phones.

Direction 2: The older folks like me will lose the social acceptable battle.  The younger generation will be texting, emailing, Tweeting and “voicing” and if we don’t like it, we can  put on noise canceling head phones.

Direction 3: The advent of sub-audible microphones.  Arthur C Clarke, one of the true thought leaders talked about this in several of his books.  Basically, imagine a tooth implant that could pick up “throat noises”.  These sounds would not be heard external to a person’s body.  The sub-audible microphone would pick up the sounds and transmit to a mobile device.  Everyone could happily be talking, Tweeting, emailing, or Voicing on the same subway car without every bothering a soul.   Technology done right is elegant.   Early versions of the microphone could be placed on the neck.  No need to go running off to the Dentist just yet.  Direction 3 is my prediction.

Direction 4: Something no one has thought of yet.


If everyone is using sub-audible microphones,  there will be privacy issues.  If someone whispers and you hear it, are you invading their privacy?  Ethically yes, but legally, no.   There will be devices that unscrupulous people will employ to invade privacy.   There will be outrage, backlash and then an attempt at regulation.  While interfacing with mobile devices via sub-audible,  I predict that people will develop their own private vocabulary, like a password or macro to communicate securely with their devices.

Stepping stones to a strange new world

1. Seamless Voice recognition, native to mobile devices  (8-10 year)
2. Sub Audible microphones  (technology is here now)
3. Social acceptance          (who knows)

I started this whole article as a mind-walk towards the concept of “think to text”.  With sub audible mic’s, you can sometimes tell if someone is talking, because they will move their lips out of habit.  The younger generation that grows up on it will not.

So what about “think to text”?  I have no idea.  The headsets that are supposed to measure brainwaves and sell for about $200 and are pure crap. Don’t waist your money, they don’t work.  Based on the state of technology, a system that could recognize words you think is way off.

Waiting in line for the  iThink

On the other hand, I will be guy in line, every 2 years, excited, buying a new iThink…and hoping.

Note:  The man next to me on the plane ride was a software engineer.  We had a great conversation.  Bill:  great to meet you!  It helped to talk through the scenarios.  The woman next to us was a 4 term politician.  Thought we were crazy, thinks ideas are dangerous, wanted to make everything Bill and I were “discovering” as an exercise in thought…illegal. Basic book burner.  What a contrast!

Disruption by convergence. Here comes the iPad

Disruption by convergence. Here comes the iPad

Sometimes a totally new technology emerges and disrupts existing markets. This is where the mind naturally goes when talking about a disruption. Sometimes a disruptive technology succeeds and sometimes it does not. If you look carefully, the ones that succeeded were more a factor of convergence of multiple factors, rather than a single breakthrough.

I have a message to those naysayers on the iPad: You have no imagination, you have no vision, or you have an agenda.

Before I pontificate about the iPad, I’ll share a personal story: Last year I bought a Jeep.

I always wanted one with a top I could take off in the warmer months. Fun to park it anywhere half up a plowed-snow embankment; a side effect of Wisconsin winters. The one I got was bare-bones. It even has manual crank windows. No extras. Here is the kicker…it came with a free year of Satellite radio. Having never used Sirius or XM, it was a great experience. The fact that there is a 24×7 Springsteen-only station still boggles my mind. I love The Boss, but I was glad to have many channels to pick from. Soon I found that one of my favorite morning stations was the BBC. It is nice to get away from the ultra left and right of American talk radio. From the beginning of my subscription, I pondered if I would renew when my free year was up. I got attached to the BBC and a few other stations; It became habit.

My year of Sirius/XM just expired. I did not renew, but I did review my portfolio to make sure that Sirius/XM stocks were not present.

Admittedly, I am behind the cutting edge as it relates to Internet Radio (IR). I use Pandora occasionally, but IR is not part of my routine. It is not yet a habit. Satellite radio was habit, but I did not want to pay $12.95 per month. Why the discord with paying for a enjoyable service? I was raised on FREE radio. It just seems wrong to have to pay for radio.

Enter the Apple AppStore. I fired up my iPhone and found a whole list of Internet Radio applications. The average Internet Radio app supported about 30,000 radio stations from around the world. After trying a few Apps for $.99 to $1.99 I found one that I liked call TuneIn Radio. Yes, it supports the BBC, all the stations I wanted… and many, many others.

Naturally I asked myself the question: Why does anyone pay for Satellite radio and when they can just use Internet Radio? If it is Howard Stern, I am simply disconnected from the mainstream mod. If that is the case, stop reading. Is Howard Stern on Internet Radio? I’m not going to take the time to check.

The answer was not Howard. The answer is… that it is not super seamless AND simple. To make this work in my Jeep and would have to have my iPhone, charger, output cord and maybe a bracket to prop it up on my dash. In addition, the iPhone has a tiny little screen that is hard to interact with while I am driving. Maybe even hazardous. Most teens could hook this up easily. I’m a techie, so it is easy for me, but most people simply won’t do it. Additionally, most cars today don’t have an external input jack. That is changing, but it is not the norm.

What would make it super seamless AND simple?

(1) Improved connectivity. Bluetooth input for car radio. No cords, unless you want to charge it. Everyone understands charging

(2) Simple to use application: Done. 100’s of them on the AppStore

(3) Larger screen. Interface will be easier to work with while driving.

(4) Really good mounting. Not hard to do. I have one for my iPhone

As I was thinking about making my new iPhone powered Internet radio

Questions to ask:

Q: What are the convergence factors in moving from the iPhone/iPod to the iPad?

A: Bigger screen, faster processor, more memory, 140,000 applications

Q: Based on convergence factors, what did NOT work well on the iPhone, but will work on the iPad.

A: GPS applications: The screen was too small. Browser: Unless you have to, no one wants to read a webpage on a tiny little screen.

There are a whole set of possibilities that involve convergence on the iPad. For the nay sayers. Yes, right now the iPhone and Internet Radio is not a perfect replacement for Sirius/XM. On my drive to work, I get reception about 95% of the trip. Taking into account that I have spotty AT&T coverage and I live out near cow fields, I’m excited with 95% reception. Again, for the nay-sayers: guess what… connectivity is going to improve. Unless satellite radio does something stunning, it is going to be disrupted.

iPhone in my Jeep, Playing the BBC

An amazing (1 in 84 billion) iPhone coincidence

An amazing (1 in 84 billion) iPhone coincidence

What happened today is about 1 chance in 84 Billion.  Here is what happened.

I was using the URL shortening service http:\  This service takes a long URL and shortens it into something manageable.  The utility of the service is that you get a short URL which can be used on venues such as Twitter, where every character counts.

In fact, I was going to tweet about a new product, Contact Capture for the iPhone.  The latest iPhone is the 3GS.   I typed in the long URL, as shown in the picture below.


Next, I pressed the [TR.IM] button and got the following:


If you haven’t picked it up, the iPhone is the 3Gs, the trimmed URL is “x3Gs”

Now for the fuzzy (very fuzzy math)

There are approximately 96 usable ASCII characters.  ASCII is the characters on your keyboard plus a few more  (A-Z, a-z and 0-9, etc) .  There are about 96 usable ones that the TR.IM service can use.

With 4 unique characters in the URL, that means there are 96 * 96 * 96 *96 combinations or 84,934,656 combinations.

This itself is interesting, but the fact that the URL was for an iPhone 3Gs we have to look at this question:  Of all trimmed URL’s, what percentage are for iPhone related content?  I am going to be  conservative and sale 1 in 1000.

So 84 million multiplied by 1000 is one in 84 billion.

The bottom line is that this was a coincidence, it made me smile and I thought I would share it.

Here are the links I made today:

Contact Capture for the iPhone:

Contact Capture for the Blackberry:

If the Blackberry link included something like a Blackberry model number, I would be heading out to buy a lottery ticket…no such luck.

This all made me think about Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers.  One of the concepts I gathered was, basically, when opportunity knocks, you need to take advantage of it.  Sometimes an opportunity is one in 84 billion.

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