Spooky insights of dictation software


In the past year or so—at the instigation of my elder son, who pointed out to me that one no longer needs specialist software for this purpose—I’ve been using the built-in capabilities of my Mac computer to dictate a first draft of works that I have been asked to translate.

It isn’t suited to all jobs—works of a highly poetic nature that require due consideration to find suitable English equivalents, or conversely obtuse or convoluted writing that requires close scrutiny just to work out precisely what the author is saying, often cannot be translated so easily on the fly. However, for clear and well-written prose, it works very well, and has doubled my productivity in many cases (far more than traditional CAT—computer-assisted translation—tools).

Of course, this is contingent upon the dictation software being accurate in its “understanding” of one’s speech. Thankfully, the built-in dictation capability within the Mac is remarkably accurate 95% of the time (particularly if one adheres to idiomatic English). However, here and there it makes errors.

A handful are plain wrong—such Henri Matisse > army monkeys, or the pensive look > the Prince of Luck.

Some are mysterious, such as: the writings of Simone de Beauvoir > “the ratings blazing wondered of while”, and Wassily Kandinsky > “CD contains key”

Some are amusingly Puritan, as though it can’t bring itself to print what I’m actually saying, or hinting of disapproval—such as forbidden sensuality > “4 billion Cincinnati”, or  lust >  “lost”, or “last”.

Some appear to reflect other, very definite, opinions, such as:

Dictated Result
intermediality into mediocrity
in the Negev region in the negative region
The critic Boaz Evron The critic was wrong
The enemy’s Vietnamese
in the state of Missouri interstate of misery
the Greater Israel Movement the greater miserable movement
the Arab markets of East Jerusalem the Harrow buckets of Mr Rosenfeld
the Greater Israel Movement the greater miserable movement

Most, however, are remarkably insightful and/or funny—to the point of suggesting a “ghost in the machine”. Examples:

Dictated Result
pluralism to listen
The town of Recipe The town of very sleepy
New immigrants You immigrants
A lithograph A little rough
In Israel In Asia
The Soviet Union  The savage union
Financial independence Some actual independence
Torres Straits tour restraints / tourist streets
the Communist Party the comments party
by Bertold Brecht by bottled left
Josephus Just see first
King Solomon King solver ones
Amenhotep [Pharaoh] I’m important
Marcel Duchamp nothing to shop
Erudition every edition
The existential vacuum The existence shall vacuum
Duplicate Do the kids
In Saloniki in sunbaking
false alarm full salaam
Israeliness is really nervous
Tel-Aviv in to live

As computers begin to acquire a true artificial intelligence, such misdictations may proliferate. Make of them what you will.


1 thought on “Spooky insights of dictation software

  1. Thanks for this Jonathan. Some of the mistranslations are hilarious. I tried Dictation software once for doing translations but it was too cumbersome. Sounds like you have found a solid solution. Many of my jobs contain so many technical terms I’m afraid too see what might result!

    Liked by 1 person

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