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IAP: Lab demonstrates voice recognition software

Taking a cue from the magic of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, a new speech recognition program demonstrated at MIT's ATIC Lab on Jan. 17 asks users to speak directly to the objects on the screen.

The Adaptive Technology for Information and Computing (ATIC) Lab at MIT provides information and technology services to MIT students, staff and affiliates with disabilities. Tuesday's demonstration took place during MIT's Independent Activities Period.

MIT's current voice recognition software is Dragon Naturally Speaking. Mary Ziegler, team leader at the ATIC Lab, said she hopes a new product called Utter Command, set to launch in late spring or early summer, might encourage those with repetitive strain injuries to make more use of voice recognition software. Of those gathered in Room 3-133 who used voice recognition software, most only used it for 20 percent of their computing time.

"Our offerings have always been limited by the constraints of what has been commercially available," Ziegler said.

Kimberly Patch, president of Redstart Systems, maker of Utter Command, believes people would use the software more if it were more intuitive. "It is much more natural to make things happen directly when you can," she said.

Utter Command works as if the objects on the screen are able to hear, she explained. "When objects can hear, we address them directly," Patch said.

For many who work in a cubicle, it is not always practical to use commands such as, "close window." Co-workers might think they are being asked to get up and close the window, Patch said. With an object-action word order, such as "window close," there is less confusion, she said.

Utter Command would work in conjunction with Dragon.

Since the program "must contain commands that are easy to learn and remember," said Patch, it is important not to change everything. Many of the old commands will stay and the new ones are designed to be easier to learn, she said. Although it is still early, the software may be available at MIT after it launches, said Ziegler.

Those interested in learning more about the ATIC Lab may attend the lab's open house on Tuesday, Jan. 24, from noon-2 p.m. in Room 7-143.

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