My work as a medical transcriptionist (MT) brings me in intimate contact with voice recognition (VR) software. We MTs listen to a doctor’s dictation while reviewing the VR’s first pass at the typewritten medical record and edit as we go.
Now, I know voice recognition is technically just a series of digital ones and zeros in a particular order, but I have come to believe that the software has the soul of an idiot savant—a ghost in the machine, if you will. VR software can decipher the thickest of accents talking at lightning speed using dense medical terminology and get it right. But VR software is also comically stupid, as these real examples demonstrate. (These funny words can actually improve your vocabulary.)
Take names. Does McRoberts really sound like Crab Birds? Is it the savant or the idiot who listens to ordinary names and hears Mr. Breakfast, Ms. Pulseless, Dr. Mean Itch, Ms. The Kittens, Dr. Ominous, and Mr. Loop Brains?
In one single physical, a Mr. Morton was identified variously as Mr. Morton (good job, VR!), Mr. Martin, Mr. Marvin, Mr. More, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Mortise, and Mr. Morabito. Really? No problem spelling mediastinal lymphadenopathy in that report, though.
As to the personality of the VR, it’s most like a teenage male, obsessed with scatological humor. As if it were scrawling on a bathroom stall, the machine turns 3.5 mm Resolute stent into 3.5 mm rather lewd stent. I can just hear it giggling as it turns Oh, I’m sorry into orange diarrhea. I can see it wrinkling its virtual nose in disgust, turning gynecologic (“Ewww, girlie stuff!”) into title thought clot sick. (We know you know that’s not a real phrase, but these funny words that sound fake are actually in the dictionary.)
Food is a favorite topic. Minnesota is, of course, then a soda, while sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss, turns into sauerkraut anemia. (I can’t imagine how the machine learned about sauerkraut.) The poor soul with Takotsubo syndrome, a temporarily weakened heart muscle, is thought to instead have taco bowl syndrome—clearly, that patient must also be a teenager. But when someone who is essentially hemiparetic (weakened on one side) is instead thought by the machine to be a chili pepper radical, we wonder just how educated this machine really is. It must have had a rough time in college—the University of Missouri is disdainfully referred to by the VR as the University of Misery.
As with many teenagers, girls are constantly on the VR’s mind. Doctor: “We will continue to monitor her, but …” VR (leeringly): “We will continue to monitor her buttocks …”
When a doctor dictates, “We are going to try to get her heart pumping better,” the machine gleefully announces, “We are going to try to get her heart clubbing better.” This makes sense, because though the doctor opines, “She appears acute,” the machine proclaims, “She appears cute.”
The VR does show occasional glimmers of intelligence—even rowdy teens learn some wisdom sometimes. One contrite VR, when listing consultations made on a patient, heard, “Number one, Interventional Radiology,” but chose to add, completely unsolicited, a number two—“Mother.” Yes, one should always consult one’s mother, don’t you think?
And so, “this ends dictation,” or as the VR interprets that, “descending stairs.”