Tag Archives: iPhone

When speech becomes text, what happens to writing?

downey

I successfully put down the baby for her late morning nap half an a hour ago. After running quietly around in sock feet trying to do things while she was out cold, I sat down to answer email and messages. As I entered this post into WordPress, she awoke again.)

It’s not easy to respond quickly and at volume using one hand or thumb, though I’ve gotten much better at both over the past five months with a baby daughter.

Over that time, I’ve been struck by how good the voice recognition in iOS on my iPhone has become. I’ve been able to successfully dictate a rough draft of a long article into the email interface and respond to any number of inbound inquiries that way.

That said, neither the soft keyboard nor voice-to-text on the device are a substitute yet for the 15″ keyboard in my MacBook Pro when I want to write at length.

It’s mostly a matter of numbers: I can still type away at more than eighty words per minute on the full-size keyboard, far faster than I can produce accurate text through any method on my smartphone.

Capturing and sharing anything other than text on the powerful device, however, has become trivially easy, from images to video to audio recordings.

The process of “writing” has long since escaped the boundaries of tabulas, slate and papyrus, moving from pens and paper to explode onto typewriters, personal computers and tablets.

Today, I’m thinking about how the bards of today will  be able to reclaim the oldest form of storytelling — the spoken word — and apply it in a new context.

As we enter the next decade of rapidly improving gestural and tactile interfaces for connected mobile devices, I wonder how long until the generations that preceded me will be able to leave decades of experience with keyboards behind and simply speak naturally to connected devices to share what they thinking or seeing with family, friends and coworkers.

Economist Paul Krugman seemed to be thinking about something similar this morning, in a blog post on “techno-optimism”, when he commented on the differences between economic and technological stagnation:

…I know it doesn’t show in the productivity numbers yet, but anyone who tracks technology has a strong sense that something big has been happening the past few years, that seemingly intractable problems — like speech recognition, adequate translation, self-driving cars, etc. — are suddenly becoming tractable. Basically, smart machines are getting much better at interacting with the natural environment in all its complexity. And that suggests that Skynet will soon kill us all a real transformative leap is somewhere over the horizon, maybe not this decade, but this generation.

Still, what do I know? But Brynjolfsson and McAfee have a new book — not yet out, but I have a manuscript — making this point with many examples and a lot of analysis.

There remain big questions about how the benefits of this technological surge, if it’s coming, will be distributed. But I think this kind of thing has to be taken into account when we try to imagine the future; I’m a great Gordon admirer, but his techniques necessarily involve extrapolating from the past, and aren’t well suited to picking up what could be a major inflection point.

That future feels much closer this morning.

[Image Credit: Navneet Alang, “Sci-Fi Fantasies, Real-Life Disappointments]

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FCC goes mobile, launches iPhone, Android apps for crowdsourced broadband speed testing

Test your broadband speed? Yep, there’s an app for that.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) built upon its growing new media prowess with the launch of iPhone and Android applications today.

The FCC’s new apps will allow users to test the speed of mobile broadband service and report deadzones where mobile broadband is not available. The FCC iPhone app is a free download from iTunes or the Android marketplace.

“Transparency empowers consumers, promotes innovation and investment, and encourages competition,” said Chairman Julius Genachowski in a press release. “The FCC’s new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country. By informing consumers about their broadband service quality, these tools help eliminate confusion and make the market work more effectively.”

The Consumer Broadband Test and the Broadband Dead Zone Report are also available as fixed applications at Broadband.gov. According to the FCC, the Ookla, Inc. Speed Test and the Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) running on the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform are used to power the app.

In the future, the FCC says it will making additional broadband testing applications available for consumer use. Consumers can also submit availability information by e-mail to fccinfo@fcc.gov. And, perhaps taking a page from Google’s playbook, this application is in beta. According to the Consumer Broadband Test information page, “this beta version is the FCC’s first attempt at providing Americans with real-time information about their broadband connection quality.”

I ran a quick test on my home cable Internet connection.

My downlink isn’t quite fiber optic speed, but I found it close to existing tools. The test depends upon Java, though many users are likely to have that installed at this point.

I tried out the mobile app as well, which used the GPS in my iPhone to discover my location. According to the FCC mobile broadband testing app, I’m getting 1.42 Mbps download speed from AT&T 3G here in Capitol Hill and .11 Mbps upload.

Beats GPRS, if not a Clearwire 4G connection — or my wifi.

Privacy concerns?

The FCC states that it’s “committed to protecting the personal privacy of consumers utilizing these tools, and will not publicly release any individual personal information gathered.” It’s posted a privacy statement to that effect.

Crowdsourcing citizen reporting

The larger context of the release of the FCC mobile broadband testing app is worth noting. The FCC will release its National Broadband Plan next week.

Part of that plan will certainly incorporate assessing where broadband service is exists, how robust it is and, perhaps, how closely service matches advertised rates.

This kind of data could serve in much the same vein as the FTC’s consumer complaint assistant works at FTComplaintassistant.gov. The FCC has given citizens a tool to report service quality and availability around the country. Equipped with that data, commissioners may be able to make more informed policy decisions as they roll out the broadband plan.

Now it remains to be seen whether citizens use it or not.

UPDATE: On Saturday night, March 13th, the FCC tweeted that over 80,000 tests had been registered using the Broadband Speed Test. It was unclear how many tests were through Broadband.gov or the apps.

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Distributed collaborative birding? Yup, there’s an app for that.

My friend Ed shared something me that’s pretty nifty if you’re a geeky birder, like me: an iPhone application that gives you instant access to reports of birds near you.

As Mary Esch wrote in an “App in the hand” for the AP, the BirdsEye bird-finding app “gives users instant access to recent reports of birds spotted near their location, tells them where to look for specific birds, and keeps track of their lists of all the birds they’ve ever seen.”

As Mary also observes, the BirdEye app makes its debut just ahead of the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

If fellow birders are going to take it out and about with them, I hope they bring along an Otterbox or the like. The count tends to be a squishy slog that’s more conducive to hardy clipboards than sensitive consumer electronics.

That said, BirdsEye looks nifty.

Good thing, too, since at $19.99, the app isn’t cheap. I suspect, however, that many avid avian chasers might just be happy to fork over for it.

It uses the iPhone’s GPS to calculate your location and then displays a list of either all of the birds ever displayed in the area, sortable by recent activity. You can also filter for birds that aren’t on your lifetime sighting list, if you’ve spent the time on inputting that information from the back of your dog-eared and battered Petersen’s Guide. (For iPod Touch owners walking fields with no nearby wifi access — imagine that — there’s an option to  manually enter locations too.)

Birdseye includes some nifty interactive features, including tie-ins to maps, recorded bird calls, photos and spoken explanations by Kaufman about whether a given bird is likely to be spotted in trees, waterways or in the fields.

The application was developed by Birds in the Hand, LLC, of Virginia, and brings together content from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and field guide author Kenn Kaufman.

BirdsEye is now available on the App Store. (Direct link)

That collaboration of ornithologists means users have access to some of the best birding resources on the planet. According to Brian Sullivan at the Cornell lab, as quoted in the AP story, about 40,000 birders enter up to 2 million sightings every month into eBird.

And if people decide to spring for it this holiday season, you might well see some of my fellow geeky birders using a bird in hand to identify two in a bush.

For more on Birdseye, check out:

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