File Under: Browsers

Hello, Chrome. Do You Read Me, Chrome?

It’s not perfect, but Google’s voice transcription demo is impressively fast. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Forget touchscreens; the input device of the future is your voice. So far there’s no need to worry about HAL 9000-like web browsers taking over your laptop, but Google is hoping to bring speech recognition to the web.

The latest beta version of Google’s Chrome web browser has added preliminary support for voice commands, improving on the tools that shipped back in Chrome 11. That means you’ll soon be able to browse the web, dictate e-mails or, in Google’s strange vision of the future, “have a freestyle rap battle,” all without touching a mouse, trackpad or screen.

In fact you can try dictating an e-mail today, just make sure you’ve got the latest beta channel release of Chrome installed and head over to the e-mail demo page. The demo will also work with the new beta channel for Android release, which means that, between this and Android’s Voice Actions, Android users will soon be able to do just about everything by voice command.

Of course, as with any speech-to-text transcription, mistakes happen and eventually you may end sounding like you said “all your base are belong to us.” In the screenshot you can see that Chrome twice gets the word “entity” wrong, but even with some mistakes the real-time transcription is impressive.

The backbone of the demo is Google’s Web Speech API, a JavaScript API that allows web developers to easily integrate speech recognition into their web apps. In the case of Chrome that means you send the voice input over to Google’s servers and get back the transcribed text which you can then use in your app. See the HTML5Rocks blog for more detail on how to create a simple textfield demo. You can see the code behind Google’s demo over on GitHub.

Right now the Web Speech API is just a webkit feature, though a W3C Community Group has worked on a standards proposal. From a W3C Community Group the proposal could move to a Working Group that would then start working on an actual specification — all of which may or may not actually happen — but at the moment it’s a non-standard, though impressive feature.