I recently witnessed discussions of new keyboards that provide no tactile feedback, and are potentially rough on the finger joints. Keyboards of this kind have been proposed, and in some cases, manufactured, for some time, but there is no doubt that even Apple with its former focus on usability, is now succumbing to making the slimmest devices they can, no matter the cost to ergonomics. In essence, the keyboard is slowly walking out the door, in spite of previous predictions that most input into computers would remain keyboard-driven for the next ten to fifteen years. What are the alternatives?
The obvious answer is, speech to text, but while add-on packages for medical terms or for various other industries are available for some speech to text systems, I’ve yet to see programs being written by STT. My main gripe here is that many computer languages contain characters that are difficult to dictate because their pronunciation is not unique, and one or two words need to be said to dictate just one character (e.g. “semi-colon” or “open parentheses”). Granted, verbal shortcuts could be used in some cases, e.g. “O P” for “open parentheses”.
Nonetheless, I am left wondering whether among the myriad programming languages, many of whom are very similar to each other, those that do not require characters other than alphabetic and numerical ones (except for containing strings, which may be a harder problem otherwise) will fare better than those that have copious amounts, such as Perl, where every variable name is prefixed with a punctuation character of some sort, or sometimes two, and every instruction needs to be followed with a semi-colon (usually at the end of a line). Being “white-space agnostic” comes at a price.
There are other areas where STT may have difficulty making inroads, including customer service, where the ability of the human operator to speak to the customer is more important than obsoleting the keyboard. It’s possible to imagine a STT enabled software that listens in to the conversation and takes down customer data autonomously. Such a system would need to have a tiny error rate, however.
And it’s still unclear to me whether:
- people could be equally productive using STT as they can using keyboards, especially programmers;
- you could use your voice as continuously through the day as you can with a keyboard; and
- people who have been using keyboards for a long time can be retrained to now use STT.
So I think there’s a lot of work remaining to be done before STT can be widely used, and I’ll personally be using proper, ergonomic keyboards for some time yet.