Do You Talk To Your Computer? Here’s What You Can Tell It To Do

Sure, you talk to your smartphone. Siri or Cortana (or Google Now) searches the web for you, sends texts or reminds you to do something. But do you talk to your computer? Do you ask it to open apps and find files? To delete this and capitalize that?

The fastest way to get your computer to do something is to ask it! Soon your voice alone will accomplish everything you can do with a keyboard. Here’s how to start right now:

The first thing to do is get a feel for how your computer interprets voice commands. The online instructions can seem a little thin so expect some trial and error as you get going — since you’re not using your keyboard or mouse, it’s a new skill set.

There are two basic ways to control your computer with your voice. First, you can dictate text instead of typing it. Second, you can give your computer commands. When you dictate, your spoken words appear in your document as you speak them. You also speak the punctuation — comma, period, open parenthesis, etc.

When you give your computer commands, you must use specific words that your computer’s voice recognition software identifies as commands. Commands can be for actions within a document you’re working on, like “scroll down” or “delete,” or they can be for actions within the OS, like “minimize that” or “open .”

  • Microsoft: If you used previous versions of Windows voice control, don’t worry. It’s come a long way. Windows 10 speech recognition does a pretty good job of understanding what you’re saying and translating it into action. Make sure to do the online tutorial and follow the training process to help improve dictation accuracy. Here’s a complete list of recognition commands, both for dictation and the operating system.
  • Apple: Dictation is built into the Mac operating system and if you have OS X Mavericks and later, you can also use enhanced dictation commands. To create your own commands, just pair any word you choose with any available action and your Mac will obey you as long as Enhanced Dictation is turned on. You can also turn dictation on and off with your voice, which comes in handy. Rumors have it Siri for the desktop will be rolled out in September but in the meantime, you can make Spotlight work like Siri.
  • Google: You can use Voice Typing within Google Docs (under Tools) for dictation using the same types of commands that you do with Windows and OS X. If you have a Chromebook, which runs on Android, you can use voice control search and commands by turning on OK Google. Here’s a list of Google commands for Android from CNet. Google Now, Android’s personal assistant, has increased contextual awareness that one-ups Siri and Cortana but is a little too intrusive for some people.

Using voice recognition to control your computer can take some time getting used to. And the people around you (and your pets) may need some time to adjust, too! But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be amazed at how fast you can zoom around — you’ll wonder why you haven’t been talking to your computer for ages. You may even start to imagine the day when you won’t use a keyboard at all.

That day is coming.

In fact, it won’t be long before we move from asking our computers to complete tasks to asking them to solve problems. So instead of asking your computer to open an app, you’ll ask it things like, “In which three US markets might my new product most likely succeed?” or “If my patient has symptoms, which tests should be completed first and why?” With cognitive computing capabilities like the ones found in IBM’s Watson, the computer that won Jeopardy, communicating with your device will become more like communicating with an intelligent human being. Related technologies include artificial intelligence, natural language processing, machine learning, speech recognition and speech synthesis.

And it all starts with the speech recognition and dictation software, which is already on your computer. What are you waiting for? Hop on it!

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