Microsoft Launches Dictate AI-Enabled Add-on for Office

A new Office add-in from Microsoft Garage provides users with AI-assisted dictation and translation services.

artificial intelligence

Microsoft on June 20 released Dictate, a new voice input add-in for Office that works with the Windows versions of Outlook, Word and PowerPoint.

Of course, dictation software is hardly new. In fact, both Microsoft and Apple include basic dictation functionality in their respective desktop operating systems, not to mention popular offerings like Nuance's popular line of Dragon speech recognition software.

Dictate, Microsoft's take on the category, is notable for a couple of reasons.

First, it hails from Microsoft Garage, the company's experimental app unit. Secondly, it uses artificial intelligence (AI) and speech recognition technologies found in the company's Cognitive Services slate and Cortana virtual assistant to turn spoken words into on-screen text.

"The plugin enables transcribing voice in more than 20 languages and also supports real-time text translation of up to 60 languages. Spoken commands give users the ability to create new lines, delete, add punctuation and more to format the text," stated Microsoft in a June 20 announcement.

Before its release to the public, the software garnered somewhat of a following within the halls of Microsoft, added the software maker. "Initially built as a prototype during an annual Microsoft hackathon, the project quickly grew its fan base with more than 1,500 employees in more than 40 countries."

In a YouTube video from Microsoft, the add-in can be seen converting spoken text, including a famous and exceptionally convoluted word, into text for a Word document, PowerPoint slide and the body of an Outlook email. It also supports a number of punctuation and editing commands, including "new line" and "delete."

Dictate is available now and requires that users run the Windows (8.1 or later) 64-bit versions of the Outlook, Word and PowerPoint (Office 2013 or later). Microsoft also recommends having .NET Framework 4.5 or later installed.

Speech recognition technologies have other uses besides authoring Word documents.

Earlier this year Domino's Pizza added a voice-enabled chatbot to its mobile app in Australia and New Zealand, enabling customers in those countries to order pizzas without speaking to a live person. The app employs Nuance's DRU Assist engine, which uses conversational AI to fulfill customer service requests.

Beyond delivering pizzas, Nuance's AI-enabled speech recognition tech is helping drivers keep their eyes on the road and their passengers entertained.

Earlier this year, Nuance demonstrated some of the new capabilities of its Dragon Drive automotive assistant software in a customized Chrysler Pacifica. Select BMW vehicles already feature some Dragon Drive capabilities, like allowing front-seat passengers to control the infotainment system.

Using Nuance's AI-driven Contextual Reasoning Framework, the system can deliver personalized driving directions that learn a driver's preferences over time and displays them first. It can also suggest when to get gas and offer recommended gas stations based on price or loyalty card status.

Dragon Drive can also tell passengers apart, allowing them to set their climate-control preferences for their own little corner of the car with spoken commands like "I'm cold." To help pass the time on road trips, the system can also accurately keep score in games of "Dragon Tunes," where players guess the names of popular songs based on brief snippets.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...