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Ask Slashdot: Is There a Useful Voice-Activated PC? (dailycaring.com) 90

An anonymous reader writes: My elderly monther-in-law misses her computer. Her mind is okay, but she cannot use a computer because of her Parkinson's disease.

I am not all that impressed with Amazon Echo. Seems you can ask the Echo for the time of day, or the weather outside, but it will not do anything useful -- like send an email. A voice controlled PC would be great, even if it only did a few simple tasks.

The original submission ends with a question: "Is there such a thing?" So leave your best thoughts and suggestions in the comments. Is there a useful voice-activated PC?

Ask Slashdot: Is There a Useful Voice-Activated PC?

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  • by damnbunni ( 1215350 ) on Sunday January 14, 2018 @07:43AM (#55925967) Journal

    Windows since XP and MacOS since like... 9.0 have included voice assistive technologies.

    You just have to turn them on.

    If the OS's built in speech recognition and control don't do what you want, buy a copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

    • Several are useful (saving time or complexity), but mostly in very limited spaces. Google's is useful when you don't want or have the free hands for typing a query into your phone. Echo is useful for playing background music. Even Kinect's can be useful for commands on a TV. If you want a fully functioning assistant, hire one; AI isn't there yet.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        There are still issues with voice recognition unless you train it, all too often.

        "Google, I'd like to order some hot meals"

        "Did you mean 'My Hovercraft is full of eels'"?

        • Benny: Please disable the shield systems.
          Computer: Of course. There are no movies in your area with that title.

          [... a few minutes and many comparable misunderstandings later ...]

          Benny: Disable the shield! Come on! You are undermining me!
          Computer: Which phrase would you like me to underline?
          Benny: Disable the shield!
          Metal Beard: Let me try.
          Metal Beard: Be ye disabling of yond shield.
          Computer: Disabling shield.
          Benny: What?!

    • Indeed. As a proof of concept, about ten years ago I hooked up a pair of VHF radios to my computer's sound card and used the built in voice rec in Windows to set up a bunch of commands. Music, video, etc. I had at one time envisioned coming home.and putting on a little wireless mic (stage production kind of thing) and being able to control things. The proof of concept was a resounding success - I was able to train it to understand me perfectly. In the end I just found it less useful than doing things m

      • by Master Moose ( 1243274 ) on Sunday January 14, 2018 @03:30PM (#55928029) Homepage

        I'll be willing to bet the first androids we get will be centrally controlled. Why make their processing self contained when they can use the excuse that they need the processing power only available in their servers to control them.

        I'll be willing to bet that very soon most "personal" computing will be centrally controlled with very little processing happening on a users device and most of it being pumped from the vendors servers.

        • I'll be willing to bet that very soon most "personal" computing will be centrally controlled with very little processing happening on a users device and most of it being pumped from the vendors servers.

          Not bloody likely.

          It's been tried -- several times -- and except in specific corporate use-cases is just not very feasible.

          Over the years, as networking and local compute power have vied for "usefulness", different combinations of local computing versus "thin clients" have been tried. None really caught on except in narrow niches.

          Ultimately, people do not -- and should not -- want to be tied to some third party to do what can be done in their own home. Most people aren't that stupid.

          • Clarification:

            "None really caught on except in narrow niches." should have been "None of the thin client solutions really caught on..."
          • by dkman ( 863999 )

            Most people aren't that stupid.

            Citation please?

            I was with you until that last statement.

          • Ultimately, people do not -- and should not -- want to be tied to some third party to do what can be done in their own home.

            Yes, agree that we should not want this. However, in the current app driven, always connected "Cloud' world, I am not convinced that many of the big tech companies would not be angling or this as much as possible.

  • by k2r ( 255754 ) on Sunday January 14, 2018 @07:44AM (#55925981)

    An iPad with proper accessibility settings and Siri voice recognition.
    Iâ(TM)m not a native speaker and Siri does understand me well enough to write proper emails and messages.

    https://www.abilitynet.org.uk/... [abilitynet.org.uk]

    • by Brulath ( 2765381 ) on Sunday January 14, 2018 @04:38PM (#55928375)

      My dad is in aged care with fairly advanced Parkinson's disease and finds Siri to be entirely unusable due to the tremor in his voice (a common symptom). He uses an iPad to check emails and facebook, send messages, and call people on Skype. I've tried turning Siri off, as he tends to hold the home button long enough to activate it frequently, but pressing the home button just asks you to turn Siri on again (which is not helpful at all). I recently activated the accessibility settings which require him to press longer to "tap" and ignore secondary taps (from shaking hands), which appears to have helped.

      She may be able to use her computer with some modifications to the peripherals. There are large keyboards, like this one [east-west.com.au], which have a perspex shield above them to rest your hands on. To press a key you have to put your finger through the holes in the thick plastic cover, which prevents a shaking arm from accidentally pressing the wrong keys. A trackball mouse is another improvement, as it doesn't require the arm to move precisely and, at least in my dad's case, the fingers are a bit more stable. I was planning to get both for dad, but he doesn't currently have space for them.

      Either way, I'd recommend trying to see if Siri or similar can actually understand her consistently before investing in voice technology. You can get a fair way with disability-accessible computer peripherals instead.

  • I know you need to give access to millions of sensitive data in order to use Cortana (Windows 10). I have not had much success on either Cortana ir OK Google as I am not an English speaker. I know other people had success with Siri.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Because no voice activated PC ever didn't make the user angry by doing the wrong f--king thing at the wrong time. On top of this you're probably going to force windows on her as well.

    At least she'll get a good workout throwing the f.?king thing out of the window when it really gets on her nerves.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And I've used them successfully, too. To control the PC and to write documents.

  • They are called iPads.

  • Tremor Cancellation (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 14, 2018 @07:57AM (#55926025)

    Not a direct answer, but perhaps helpful -- there is some promising work being done with tremor compensation/cancellation technology. Strap on a bracelet with a type of vibrator attached and it can stabilize your hand movements, kind of like camera stabilization does for taking pictures.

    https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/projects-backed-by-google-and-microsoft-are-tackling-parkinsons-disease/ [digitaltrends.com]

    • Same thing, different article. Not available yet, I believe...

      https://blogs.microsoft.com/tr... [microsoft.com]

      This is a lovely idea. I wonder whether we could also come up with a digital filter that could take out Parkinson's tremors when using an ordinary mouse. I want to work on it.

  • by taxman_10m ( 41083 ) on Sunday January 14, 2018 @07:58AM (#55926027)

    I think that does what you are looking for.

    • by Richard Kirk ( 535523 ) on Sunday January 14, 2018 @09:09AM (#55926267)
      I used to sit next to someone who had RSI so used to Dragon Dictate (as it was then) to do a lot of his keyboard work, which included writing code. On bad dates he could use it to control the mouse too. This is not easy, so it depends on how determined your mother-in-law is. If she has computer skills but has just lost the manual control, then a Dragon product may do the job. If she hasn't handled a computer in some time, so she will be getting used to a new computer, a new OS, and everything else being in the wrong place as well as this new tool, all at once; then it is a big ask.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Unfortunately, This would not be the case. Too much physical interaction is still required for it to be "Truly" useful... Being in IT for 28+ years now, I have several customers who are paraplegic for one reason or another. Some have use of their hands, some only minimally. (Cerebral Palsy) My customers who have minimal use of their hands typically type with a special mouse using the on-screen keyboard. As Dragon makes too many mistakes, has too many bugs, and just can't fit the bill consistently enough to
      • EDIT: to clarify, they use the On-Screen keyboard in "conjunction" with something like Dragon, Siri, Google, Alexa, Etc.
  • by oxnyx ( 653869 ) <coral,courtney&gmail,com> on Sunday January 14, 2018 @07:59AM (#55926029)
    Having spent a certain amount of time with disability offices I suggest that you go and find a local Blind Association and see if they can allow her to test out some of the software written for blind people. Jaws is a software that allows you too hear in one ear what's on the screen and what you're typing in the other ear might be more difficult than your mother-in-law can manage. The other thing is that this will probably help her get access two other entertainments such as audio books and people in a similar condition to commiserate. What you're looking for is probably not an out-of-the-box solution sold at the General Market but something you're going to find it's a little more expensive but there's probably a grant for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Obviously setting up these devices can take some customization, and bringing up the Amazon Echo, a device not meant to be a computer, while appearing ignorant of the existing voice-assistance technologies in actual computer OSes is a warning sign that you may need real hands-on help.

    Not that we won't try here, but I've got to get that advice out of the way.

  • The answer is simple: The technology has to BE ON YOUR COMPUTER. It has to work offline as well. Otherwise this is just the usual "giving away your most private information for free".
    • by Mascot ( 120795 )

      How is "it has to work offline" an answer to the question of whether there are functional solutions for voice controlling things like sending emails and other basic PC usage scenarios?

      I don't know the elderly woman in question, but my bet would be that she cares _a lot_ more about whether or not she can make the solution do what she needs, than whether or not it is offline or online. Either way, that's her call.

      • by davidwr ( 791652 )

        How is "it has to work offline" an answer to the question of whether there are functional solutions for voice controlling things like sending emails and other basic PC usage scenarios?

        1) You cannot depend on being online 24/7.

        2) Some people reasonably consider "online only" to be such an invasion of privacy that it's fundamentally broken. That is, by definition, it "does not work" even if it appears to work. Granted, that's a philosophical rather than a technical argument, but it is an argument nonetheless.

        • by Mascot ( 120795 )

          My point was that it did not answer the question. We know nothing of the woman's connectivity, or whether she cares about privacy issues. The "answer" offered no actual suggestions for solutions, just some related personal opinions phrased as absolutes.

  • It comes from the same people who make automated lawn mowers.

    They're called children.

  • The problem with voice activated commands to effectively use web sites like facebook, is that there is no web specific way of selecting functions on standard web page even with HTML5. However I am sure that they are working on it at facebook. If they do release a facebook specific browser with a function audio command structure for a front end that remains static then it may become entirely possible to surf the site. Google chrome does surf by audio and is operating system agnostic unlike Siri which is apples pie in the sky attempt at market dominance or Cortana which is Microsoft's answer to Google chrome and Siri.

    The overwhelming problem with all of these speech recognition interfaces is that web sites are not coded for key word searches and every website on the planet would most likely screw up the idea of using a keyword search structure. Again it all comes down to language and the fact that the complexity involved in obtaining fine grained results from key words in combinations interpolated by a computer is an enormous task that is fraught with the possibility of error.

  • Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking is advertised as such an accessibility solution. IMO, a programmer might be helpful in case a little coding and registry manipulation is needed.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I had a similar problem with an aging parent with RA that was so bad she could not type. I asked her what she wanted the computer to do for her. She gave me a list of 7-8 things (search the web, write an email, open her facebook page and weather were the top ones) so I downloaded https://mega-voice-command.com/ and went to work. It took about an hour to set it up and get it to respond to her the way she wanted. That was 8 months ago and now we have about 80 custom commands in it and I just put another mic i

  • On the MacOS, iOS and tvOS, all from Apple, there is an accessibility service called Switch Control. Similar software exists for other operating systems. Switch Control along with the built in dictation service provides a means for those with very limited mobility to operate a computer or similar device.

    When connected to a bluetooth switch such as those made by Ablenet (www.ablenetinc.com) the whole interface can be control from a single button which can be bushed by the disabled person. Other switches work
  • X10 (industry standard) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    With a home computer, the home automation kit and no internet many tasks can be automated using voice.
    Generations of people in the USA used their DOS and Windows voice control to automate their lights, thermostats, alarms, some appliances.
    Such systems did the task asked for when told. No need for a robot buddy or todays ad and internet connected systems.
  • The big tech companies are pushing the digital assistant technology hard, but the truth is that, as things currently stand, the usefulness of such assistants is extremely limited. They are able to answer very specific, domain-limited questions which, for the most part, you could answer yourself probably just as quickly, if not more so, from your keyboard. Other than that, they do very little that is really useful. My Alexa device can turn lights on and off - which I can do faster by throwing a switch. I gue
  • Mac OS X has had this feature for nearly 20 years.

  • No

  • Dragon/dragonfly (Score:5, Informative)

    by arnott ( 789715 ) on Sunday January 14, 2018 @12:17PM (#55927039)
    You can train your PC to do that. I use dragon naturally speaking with dragonfly python scripting. There are many python libraries which are built on dragonfly, which do the job.

    Caster is a good one. Check these tutorials [youtube.com].

    You will need to spend some time to understand how things work and train your mother-in-law to use the customized voice commands.

    Search for "dragon naturally speaking demo" on YouTube to see what others do.
  • Basically it would have to be near human voice recognition if it were implimented with humans.

    Frankly, I've never liked voice interfaces. They don't stop and start recognizing when they should execute properly. And the accuracy of command execution is poor. And the speed of data entry or command entry is slow.

    I can see some uses as a back up interface that would ignore commands unless certain conditions were met... and was only used for a few things. I don't see the use for it outside of that until the voic

  • I have a friend who is a quadriplegic and lives in an electric chair. He is also a software engineer and very active on Facebook. Last time I knew the details of his setup he was using Dragon, I believe. As I understand it, it's fully customizable, i.e. you get to tie particular voice commands that you choose to particular actions, widgets, keystrokes, etc.

    It took him a year or three to get it all customized to his liking for everything, but at this point he basically rolls around and uses the laptop attached to the deck on his chair in front of him nonstop. He's got a bunch of IoT/smart home stuff set up at home and in his office as well, he provided directions and his wife set it all up under his supervision.

    The result is that he basically has a workable voice interface to the Internet, his IDE, Windows, and also most of his immediate physical surroundings, so that he lives a fairly normal life, apart from bodily functions and eating, which he obviously needs help with. But most everything else, from rolling around/chair control to lights and blinds and doors and windows and locks to television and computer and work he does by himself, without any movement in his limbs, using voice.

    All off-the-shelf stuff as far as I know, they're very middle class and bog standard insurance, no huge budget, just a lot of his expertise and his wife's hands to set it all up over the years.

    • I have a friend who is a quadriplegic and lives in an electric chair.

      Hopefully he's configured the recognition output for "flip switch" to /dev/null ;)

      (Seriously though, his story is both impressive and uplifting. Good on him.)

  • I sympathize. There aren't a lot of options for people with disability or disease conditions that impair their mobility who still want to interact with their PC. Most speech products are transcription products, and then there's Cortana which I've never really used. But there is one product I can recommend, called "tazti" speech recognition. I know a number of disabled people who use tazti to control their PC and play video games. It's *not* dictation software like Dragon, only command and control for
  • I was shocked that neither Amazon Echo nor Google Home can take voice dictation! They've got speech recognition, so surely they should be able to at least convert that to text and have it read back in Alexa/Google's voice later on at a bare minimum (this assumes it can't record audio and play it back later...which would be nice too).

    Before you mention EchoScribe [github.io], that was a total hack involving an external microphone amongst other kludges (and the website is sneaky not mentioning the kludges up front)!

  • I have to say if google mini is anything to go by, we are at the stage where if you accept account linkage and storing your requests by an ad company, we can reach parity with a bad 80s style text adventure, think "use lock" "turn key" "open the damn door you useless pos"! I use plex with phlex tv written by a single dev afaik which does a better job of finding correct songs from my library than google in google music with the same songs, also google hobble using assistant on tablets and have no viable pc
  • Android (with Google) has excellent voice control. At least for what I have tried.

    "Email to {name of my contact}" opens a blank email (in Gmail) and then asks me "what's the message"? Say the message and that becomes the body.

    Then it asks "do you want to send this?" and you answer yes or no. It all works fine.

    Haven't tried too much else, but "play {artist} on Spotify" starts Spotify and plays artist radio for that artist. I would imagine many other apps work similarly.

    • On a tablet the google assistant is hobbled from running all times when the screen is on, most likely so they can shift a bunch of crap £35-50 mini speakers that do bizarre things like saying the free version of spotify cant play song requests on them (but can on when sent to my chrome cast). Additionally the eco system (shudders) can't play a movie I have bought on google play movies on my chromecast, but can play things from netflix, utter joke in my opinion. As I said above a single dev for
    • by shanen ( 462549 )

      Hmm... I'm here because I was asked to metamoderate this comment and wanted more context, but it feels like I'm mostly trying to assess the metamoderation. My legacy sentiment was that the metamoderation is even worse than the moderation, but I don't know that much about it...

      First, as regards your comment, I came to see the context because you didn't mention the Subject: line. I do use Android and Mac dictation quite a bit, but not the way you do, so I don't know that part of it... I basically use the dict

  • There are other assistive technologies other than speech control -- e.g. keyboard with keyguards. Essentially a plastic overlay for the keyboard where you can rest your hands directly on the keyboard itself without accidentally pressing any, but it has holes through which to actually reach individual keys.

    Windows itself has accessbility features as well, such as StickyKeys (press modifier keys separately instead of simultaneously) and FilterKeys (ignore rapid succession keypresses)

    There's other assistive

  • Hey Siri, pour hot grits down my pants
  • Voice as an option on Macs must have been around longer than we think. Back in '86 when I was working at Plexicorp, a visiting professor from Edinburgh University tried to use my boss's Mac as if it had a voice interface. He ended up falling back to the keyboard. He seem very bemused to have to use such a primitive interface. The prof seemed to really know about engineering.
  • I have Parkinson's disease. It affects people differently. I use speech recognition productively, but in advanced cases, the speech of the person with PD can be adversely affected. If this is the case, computer speech recognition is not going to help.
  • My father â" a true rocket scientist, programmer, and all-around nerd â" lived with Parkinsonâ(TM)s for 16 years. When typing started to become difficult, he used Dragon, as others here have mentioned. After getting his first Deep Brain Stimulator, his tremors became controlled enough that he could resume almost full normal use of the computer, falling back to voice recognition only when needing to input large quantities of text. Of course, the disease is progressive, and eventually using a c
  • I asked my computer. It said "No".

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