Software Turns Phone Messages into Text Technology now allows you to "read" your voice mail. Voice-recognition software can translate telephone messages into text, then send them out as e-mail. But how well does it work?
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Software Turns Phone Messages into Text

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Software Turns Phone Messages into Text

Software Turns Phone Messages into Text

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On Mondays, we talk about technology, and today, turning your voicemail into e-mail. It's a service being tested on the telephone of technology writer Mario Armstrong.

(Soundbite of telephone's dial tone)

(Soundbite of recording)

Unidentified Woman: Your message will be transcribed by simulscribe.com. Please speak slowly and clearly.

(Soundbite of telephone beeping)

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. Hi. I want to leave a message here for Mario Armstrong. And Mario, I want to find out a little bit more about this software that supposedly transcribes your voice mail messages so you can read it on a computer or on your phone like a text message. Why don't you just give me a call back and we can talk a little bit about that? And by the way, hope you got through the snowstorm okay the last few days. And hasta luega.

(Soundbite of telephone beeping)

INSKEEP: Well, we've gone to another line and we've found Mario Armstrong. Mario, how you doing today?

MARIO ARMSTRONG: I'm doing good, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now, I guess we're going to wait for the system. What's it called? SimulScribe?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. There's two different systems that are out there. This one is in the U.S. right now. It's called Simulscribe. There's another one out of the U.K. that's called SpinVox. This is a voicemail system that will transcribe all of the voicemail messages that you receive and make them available in text form either on your favorite PDA, your cell phone, your e-mail or on the Web.

INSKEEP: How much does this service cost?

ARMSTRONG: The service right now is running about $10 a month, and that looks like it gives you 40 messages each month that you could have transcribed.

INSKEEP: Well, give it couple of minutes here to see if this voicemail message has actually been transcribed. It asked me to speak slowly and clearly. I did that at the beginning, and then I got a little unfair toward the end. I sped up and I even threw in a tiny bit of Spanish. So how did it do?

ARMSTRONG: I'm going to click on this one that came in.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. Hi. I want to leave a message here for Mario Armstrong. And Mario, I want to find out a little bit more about this software that…

(Soundbite of telephone beep)

ARMSTRONG: Now, what you just heard was the actual voice - your voice - that you sent on my voicemail. So - but now let's see how accurate this is.

INSKEEP: …like a text message. Why don't you just give me a call back…

ARMSTRONG: Now as I'm listening to it, I'm looking at the written message. And so far, 100 percent accurate. Okay, so everything was fine except that it spelled hasta luega as hasta, h-a-s-t-a, l-e-g-a.

INSKEEP: Hasta lega.

ARMSTRONG: Hasta lega.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's very impressive.

ARMSTRONG: Now, I also have other messages in here from your producer, Jessica, who, in her New York accent, her New York style, and it does say inaudible in a certain point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: It has in parentheses in the middle of the message, it says inaudible. And then in another section, it has in parentheses, garbled. So something there she was trying to say didn't quite come through the transcription.

INSKEEP: Why would I want to pay anything for this service?

ARMSTRONG: You know, I - you know, this is one of those things where I'm wondering is there a problem that we're trying to force a solution for here? When I come down to is a few applications. I mean, I don't about you, Steve, but voicemail does have its frustrating moments.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

ARMSTRONG: You're forced to listen to every single message to get to the one that really may have meant all the world to you for that day.

INSKEEP: Now I can scroll through 10 messages, and it might take me 15 seconds.

ARMSTRONG: It might take you 15 seconds? You can actually see where the messages are coming from, so you can visually scan and say, oh, you know, these five numbers, let me jump down to this eighth number that's very important.

INSKEEP: One last question, Mario Armstrong. A couple of small companies are putting out this service. Why are big companies not jumping on this?

ARMSTRONG: You know, this is the great question. And I believe that they may be, quite frankly, just sitting back and letting these couple of companies -see if there becomes a demand for it, and then just invite them to the party and say, hey, we'd like to swallow up your service.

INSKEEP: Mario Armstrong is a freelance tech writer who tinkers with new technologies for NPR News. Mario, good to talk with you again.

ARMSTRONG: It's my pleasure, and I have fun tinkering for you guys, Steve. Anytime.

INSKEEP: Well, leave us a message anytime.

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