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Have you talked to your computer today?

With the increasing use of communication technology in all business applications, employers and employees frequently are confronted with yet another piece of technology to be included in the work environment. The mere idea of learning another computer skill, particularly another software application, causes many employees to lament, "I don't have enough time as it is!"

Employees certainly need to know how technology can be used to create, process, and distribute information instantly and effectively. Voice technology is considered one of the more popular software tools making inroads in the office environment. Only recently has the importance of developing audio products to enhance text- and data-based materials produced on the computer been effectively recognized. According to Stephen Wilson, multimedia designer and author, "Sound has an emotional way of filling space that isn't as limited as sight."(1)

Voice processing can be defined as "a system that combines the power and versatility of the computer with the impact of sound technology." There are three kinds of computer sounds: sampled sound, synthesized audio, and MIDI (musical instrument digital interface). The most basic one-sampled sound-is analog-based. Sounds can be taken from an external source such as a human voice, grabbed, or 'sampled' at tiny intervals, converted to digital format, and recorded on a hard disk or similar media.(2)

Businesses across the country are just beginning to experiment with voice processing because they have realized the professionalism, privacy, and efficiency the system adds to the office environment.

Voice Processing Systems

Many types of voice processing systems are surfacing in the multimedia market. Many questions must be addressed before a firm purchases a particular voice processing system, such as:

* What are the company's main objectives for using voice processing software, e.g., voice applications for text-based documents, spreadsheet applications?

* What type of multimedia environment is desired - sound, sound and video, sound, video and animation?

* What is the intended source of the sound generations - human voice, computer sounds, music clips?

* Who is the intended audience?

* Who is the end user?

* What type of hardware is used in the office environment?

Some of the most popular products appearing on the market are video e-mail with sound (SeeMail), VoiceOver, and Windows Sound System.

Using Voice Processing in the Office

WordPerfect and VoiceOver software can be used in any PC environment. The VoiceOver software inserts spoken comments into any WordPerfect 5.1 document with no more effort on the part of the user than talking into a microphone. The end user can position the cursor on a particular part of the text in the WordPerfect document, press the voice annotation hot key, and talk.

Voice comments can be added to any area of the text. The comments also record the time, date, and author of the voice annotation. These voice annotations can be stored in the WordPerfect document and played at any time as long as the receiver has VoiceOver software. VoiceOver also can be used in a network environment, and users can share or send the documents by e-mail in a multi-user environment.

VoiceOver sound packages come complete with sound boards, headsets, or microphone/speaker combinations. This software integrates text and sampled audio. As stated previously, sampled sound is the most basic technology in the audio environment.

Your New Assistant

Have you ever wished for your own personal proofreader to sit beside you, or someone else to verify the numbers as they were keyed into a spreadsheet? Have you ever wished for your own personal writing tutor to recite the words as you typed them to get a feel for how the phrases and sentences sound when spoken aloud?

Well, Microsoft Windows Sound System serves as that office genie. The Windows Sound System helps you work faster and more efficiently. The Voice Pilot feature recognizes specific menu commands (File Open, Cut, Paste, etc.) and works with a number of OLE word processors, spreadsheets, e-mail, and presentation software.

The proofreader feature reads back your entries in a Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows spreadsheet so you can check data entries for accuracy.

The Quick Recorder feature adds sound to a Microsoft mail memo. Documents can be updated with pictures and labels equipped with sound messages that clearly identify the purpose of the correspondence for everyone who opens the file document.

The Microsoft sound package comes equipped with 5.25[inches] and 3.5[inches] HD software diskettes, 16-bit audio card, microphone, and headphone.

Another voice annotation package called TyIN 2000 can add audio notes to text files for transmission over a network. The sound package offers a board that combines modem, fax, voice mail boxes, and voice annotation.

Spreadsheet Echo, an add-on software utility, works with Lotus 1-2-3. This program reads numbers back to the user who can listen to the voice playback by using a computer speaker or headphone.(3)

The world of voice-activated equipment is already upon us. Our environment is one of technological wizardry - voice activated television, phones, and computers. Talking credit cards, microwave ovens, and smart houses already are having an impact on the way we live.

The U.S. Postal Service uses voice recognition to sort bundles of mail. A human voice reads the ZIP codes to the computer, and the computer does the sorting. According to Tom Krier: "Using integrated voice and imaging technology, customer service representatives can capture telephone conversations with customers and embed them into problem reports to be sent to a second level technician. In the future, voice-processing hardware will be built into most workstations, making it necessary for voice-enabled applications to support both the voice-server architecture and local audio hardware at the workstation.(4)

Voice Technology to the Rescue

Business audio technology will enable office end-users to simplify and enhance the process of communicating with clients, customers, and other employees. Business audio is a tool that can be used to:

* Increase productivity

* Enhance presentations and documents

* Perform computer functions with voice commands

* Verify spreadsheet data with a voice proofreader utility

* Provide soothing sounds to enhance the work environment

Sound objects can be linked or embedded into a document. A sound object can consist of a recording, a label a description, and a picture. Once a sound object is embedded into a document, it becomes part of the document. When this document is transferred to another, the object will still play and can be edited.

Embedding a sound object into a document is similar to adding text to a document. When a sound object is linked to a document, the sound file must be transferred along with the file document. Changes to a linked document affect all other documents that are linked to that file.

Documents that contain a sound object can be printed in the same manner as normal documents. The only discernible difference is the sound picture that appears in the printed copy. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

More Talk, Less Paper

"Have you talked to your computer today?" This question is being asked increasingly in industry as employees sit at their computer stations. Employees can consult with each other by talking to their documents and transmitting them to other end-users and group ware users.

Much talk emerged during the 1970s and '80s about the emergence of a "paperless" society with the advent of the computer, yet that prediction seemed to be lost in a world of computer printouts. However, the time is right for processing information in the manner with which office personnel feel most comfortable-the oral communication mode-which uses voice technology to impart information. The time is here; the time is now for the office society to take the lead with this new technology.

This new technology will provide a multitude of opportunities for companies to train employees how to captivate their intended audiences, how to become more effective communicators, and how to produce more concise, clear, and correct documents.

Shhhhhhh! My computer is talking to me.

1 Wilson, Stephen, "Audio Products," Multimedia Source Guide (1993): 54.

2 loc cit.

3 Hotch, Ripley, "New in Sound," Nation's Business (Jan. 1993): 46.

4 Krier, Tom, "Voice Integration, the Next Step in Document Imaging Applications," Imaging World 2 (Feb. 1994): 1, 26-30.

DORIS A. VAN HORN CHRISTOPHER, Ed.D., is an associate professor of information systems in the School of Business and Economics at California State University, Los Angeles. She is a corporate trainer in a wide range of software teaching areas and currently is working on integrating voice and video applications into data base management applications. She also is engaged in developing a computerized presentation design center to serve the multimedia and training needs of education and industry. Her other professional activities include co-ownership of a retail business.
COPYRIGHT 1994 California State University, Los Angeles
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Van Horn-Christopher, Doris A.
Publication:Business Forum
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jun 22, 1994
Previous Article:Multimedia - what is it?
Next Article:On-line information services - the world at your fingertips.

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