Transformation of Voice Recognition Technology from Analog to Digital

Thomas Edison Dictaphone

It’s hard to imagine a world without voice recognition technologies like Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Voice. They make life so much easier! Although it may seem like a more recent invention, voice recognition technology has existed since the 1950s. Of course, when it was first invented it looked a lot different than it does today. Here’s a look at how the technology has evolved from analog to today’s modern voice recognition devices.

Key Voice Recognition Inventions Over Time


Long before Alexa was speaking from Amazon Echos all over the world, there was Audrey in the 1950s. K. H. Davis, R. Biddulph and S. Balashek of Bell Laboratories invented the device, which was so big it could easily fill up a large room. The large device could only recognize the first ten numbers. However, within a decade, Audrey’s ability expanded to sixteen English words. Audrey’s ability to recognize speech was not nearly as accurate or widespread as modern technology. At best, the device had 97% accuracy, but that was only if it was used to hearing your specific voice. Otherwise, accuracy was much lower and its language comprehension was limited.


The next milestone for voice recognition came in the 1970s when IBM, Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanford Research teamed up to make a more advanced voice recognition technology. The result was Harpy, which could understand over 1,000 English words and entire sentences. Harpy was mostly used for translation. It could recognize words then transfer them to text for translation.


In the coming decade, IBM was responsible for the next technological advancement: a typewriter known as Tangora with voice recognition abilities. Tangora could recognize 20,000 words, greater than any device before it. The technology relied on the statistics of certain words being formed based on sound. This method stemmed from the Markov model for voice recognition.

The Digital Era

This was the first voice recognition software. It could process speech much more quickly than previous models—up to 100 words per minute!

Then in the 2000s, smartphones reinvigorated the evolution of voice recognition technology. It may surprise you to know that Google Voice, not Siri, was actually the first voice recognition app for iPhones. With these technologies, voice recognition had more diverse uses. Later, Siri and Alexa even had the ability to interact with their users.

Smart Speaker Speech Recognition

How Voice Dictation is Impacting the Workplace

Voice recognition is key for speech to text dictation. This is making a huge impact on many different industries around the world! Here are some of the most significant effects.

Personalized Assistants

It’s much faster and easier to dictate to a word document, text message, or email rather than typing everything out. Dictation technology also allows you to get your thoughts down without using your hands, enabling you to multitask if you want to. With the accuracy of modern voice dictation software, you don’t have to worry about spelling errors. You also won’t have to risk losing an idea before you can get it down. When you need to make a memo or send a reminder, you can easily dictate to a smart device and come back to it later. Voice recognition is helpful because it enables everyone to have a personal assistant at work and at home.

Easy Translations and Call Automatons

Just like Harpy, some voice dictation technology allows you to translate speech from one language to another. These technologies can also process what a customer is saying over the phone and make decisions on how to route an incoming call or respond accordingly. This eliminates the need for many employees and thus saves businesses money. However, it can still provide a more personalized, almost human connection with a customer.

Efficient Alternative for Medical Professionals

It’s becoming more common for medical professionals to use voice recognition technology to dictate notes about their patients. Radiology Departments were among the first to adopt voice recognition into the workplace improving documentation turn around from days to minutes. With the introduction of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) the burden of patient documentation falls most heavily on the clinicians. Incorporating the efficiencies of voice recognition for the clinicians has become an essential part of successful practices.

Accessibility for the Visually Impaired

Voice dictation can also significantly simplify life for visually impaired individuals. In the past, visually impaired individuals have had to use technologies that have been specially modified (such as with braille) so they can use them. But with the power of voice dictation, there is a whole new world of technology that’s accessible to everyone! The visually impaired can even start using everyday devices like smartphones with modifications.

It’s clear that voice dictation technology has dramatically changed our everyday lives for the better. Over the last several decades and particularly in the last few years, this technology has made incredible strides. From the workplace to the home and beyond, its impact is inescapable!

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