Bill Gates (of Microsoft fame) has recently declared that he predicts in the next five years people will be using voice activation software to navigate computers. In 1997 he predicted that in 10 years
"I believe that we'll not only be using the keyboard and the mouse to interact, but during that time we will have perfected speech recognition and speech output well enough that those will become a standard part of the interface. " <link>Another writer appears to scoff at his prediction, as it's now 2008. However, I wonder whether he's familiar with the new Vista operating system that has incorporated the voice activation (and speech to text) into its operating system. I have been amazed at how little attention this feature has received. One magazine actually ran an article on speech to text software immediately following an artice about Vista and never mentioned this feature.
What other problems I might have with the Vista system, the speech recognition and it's inclusion in the standard operating system are great moves towards more universal design.
I have tried the speech to text feature of the new system, and was amazed at how quickly I was able to train it to recognize my voice and complete some basic typing commands. Navigating various windows or trying to play cards using only my voice was a bit trickier, though this could have had as much to do with the user as the software.
For more information on Vista and the accessibility features built into it and a demo of the speech recognition software, visit Microsoft's site.