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article imageMicrosoft launches experimental voice dictation Office add-in

By James Walker     Jun 21, 2017 in Technology
Microsoft has unveiled an experimental extension for its Office apps that lets you dictate text using your voice. The company claims the technology is faster than typing with the keyboard. It supports over 20 languages, including automatic translation.
Called Dictate, the add-in is currently compatible with the Windows desktop versions of Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. It lets you use your voice alone to create new documents, presentations and email messages. You can speak your thoughts out loud, without having to wait for your fingers to catch up.
Dictate comes with a set of built-in commands that let you control the punctuation and layout of your writing. You can say "question mark," "colon" or "new line" and have the corresponding character added to your file. There's also voice triggers to "stop dictation" and "press enter," so you don't need to revert to mouse, keyboard or touch until you've finished writing.
Dictate can also automatically translate your text between 60 different languages. If you need to write a document in French, you can say the text aloud in English and have it appear on the screen already translated. It's said to be faster and simpler than typing in your native language and then copying and pasting backwards and forth between a separate translator.
Dictate itself currently supports over 20 input languages. The underlying technology is based on Microsoft's advanced speech recognition engine used to power its Cortana digital assistant. The company claims this makes Dictate accurate enough to use on a daily basis and renders it faster than using the keyboard.
In practice, few users are likely to end up relying wholly on Dictate though. Besides the inevitable mistakes that will occur, dictation still isn’t practical in most scenarios. A lot of work in Office occurs, predictably, in offices. The current trend towards open-plan spaces restricts the use of dictation, unless you want to risk facing the wrath of your co-workers.
It's for these reasons that voice recognition technologies still haven't really taken off. While Dictate is Microsoft's first attempt to build dictation right into Office, the company built something similar at the launch of Windows Vista. Windows Speech Recognition lets you use voice commands and dictate across all of Windows, including in Office files. It's still available in Windows 10, buried under the Ease of Access Center.
Dictate suggests Microsoft is once again dabbling with giving speech recognition a wider role in Windows. Theoretically, it could one day update Windows Speech Recognition to include the significantly more powerful capabilities of the Cortana engine.
Dictate is currently a Microsoft Garage project though, part of the company's in-house experimental zone of playground technologies. This means it will have a low-profile and remains under development. It's possible the enriched dictation it enables could be the springboard for an expanded Cortana across Windows and Office but for now it remains a small-scale test of the company's tech. You can download the add-in from Dictate's website.
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