A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A mix of posts on gesture, HCI, perception or robots and some personal information.

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iCommunicator solves nothing at $6499?

,,Well Jim, good to see you and what have you got for us today?” ,,Same here, John, and I can tell you I have something really amazing, just watch this!”

It listens, it types, it signs, it speaks, “iCommunicator is the finest software ever developed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing”

Here is some ‘honest advice’ from EnableMart:

Training to Ensure Positive Outcomes. … Systematic professional training is strongly encouraged to maximize use of the unique features… The end user must be completely trained … to achieve positive outcomes. Managers of the system should … provide training for both end users and speakers … Additional time may be required to customize … Contact EnableMart for information about professional training opportunities. 

This seems at first glance a fair bit of warning before you spend $6499 on an iCommunicator 5.0 kit. However, EnableMart sells the advised training for an additional $125 an hour, it is not free. I think this entire thing is a bit suspicious. I have worked with speech recognition, inlcuding the Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and it makes recognition errors (period). I have also fooled around with or seen most sign synthesis technology available today, and it is far from natural. And the same is true for speech recognition.

These technologies have yet to make good on their promises. If you ignore actual user experiences you can imagine it will solve many communication problems. But in practice, little errors cause big frustrations. Using speech recognition can be very tiring and irritating. It only works if the entire interaction is designed well and the benefits outweigh the cost.

Just imagine you are a deaf person using this iCommunicator with some teacher and a simple speech recognition error occurs: How is that error handled? Usually, when a speaker dictates to Dragon NaturallySpeaking he will spot the error and correct it. In this case your teacher will not spot the error (assuming he doesn’t monitor your screen) and the dialogue will continue with the error in place (unless there is enough context for you to spot the error and understand what the speaker actually said). A second problem is that you have to persuade people to wear your microphone to enter into a conversation with you. In a weird and cynical way you are asking them to suffer the same techno-torture as you. Not something you want to do more than twice a day, I imagine. And only with people whose affection you can afford to lose. The sign synthesis is fairly straightforward sign concatenation. A dictionary of 30.000 signs is accessed to get a video for every word. The videos are then played one by one, without any further sentence prosody. That means it looks terrible, like a gun firing signs at you. It also means it does not sign ASL, but signed English at best. Good enough, you might say, but I think the benefit of artificial signed English over typed text is not big. So, the signing is pretty much worthless. Jim the tell-sell guy further claims you can use it to improve your speaking. I do not believe speech recognition technology can give the proper feedback to improve articulation difficulties. It may be able to judge whether you pronounced something correctly (or at least similar to what it knows), but that’s about it. Although there is something in the specs about pronunciation keys, the video doesn’t show details. Well, I simply do not think a computer can reliably tell you what sort of error you made. So what does that leave? You can type text and your iCommunicator reads it out loud with text-to-speech. You can get that sort of software for the price of a cheap dinner from any of these sites.

Finally, the iCommunicator v5.0 lets you search for a word on Google with a single click. That’s pretty neat I admit. If you also think that that is worth a couple of thousand dollars, please contact me. I can supply an iBrowser v6.1 for only $2999, and will supply the necessary training for free. What the hell, I’ll even throw in a professional designer microphone v7.2 :-) Unfortunately, the business case of the iCommunicator may actually rest on sales to hearing people who wish to reduce or entirely avoid the cost of interpreters:

HighBeam Encyclopedia: …The iCommunicator also enables government workers to provide equal access to information and services to the hearing impaired in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508… 

Sometimes, you can only hope the future will prove you wrong.

2 Responses to “iCommunicator solves nothing at $6499?”

  1. 1
    Susan Baldock:

    Hi,
    I am at present very interested in purchasing the icommunicator software and perhaps even your iBrowser v6.1 and am in the process of preparing a grant submission for Tsmanians with Disabilities Inc. in Tasmania, Australia. I therefore need a complete amount in Australian Dollars that it will cost me, can you help with this at all?

  2. 2
    esmerelda:

    Where can i find information about ibrowser v6.1 I would love to have icommunicator for work at architecture firm. I’m the only deaf worker there and it would be great for seminars, meetings and with clients. But, unfortuntely, with $6499 I can’t afford it. Is there any other possible ways? Please let me know. Thanks!

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