Business Today

There is an Otter Way

An AI-based recording app could be the answer to transcribing woes.
Team BT   New Delhi     Print Edition: April 22, 2018
There is an Otter Way

A new app that goes by the inexplicable name Otter, to be precise Otter Voice Meeting Notes, can record and also do the exhausting job of transcribing. It can be downloaded for free (for now) on both the Apple store and the Google Play Store.

Otter uses voice recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) to not just record everything that is said in a meeting but also transcribe it almost in real time. What one is left with is a set of meeting notes and voice recordings, all neatly separated by different voices, and all transcribed and time-stamped.

Using Otter is simple. Sign in, for example with your Google account, and you're in. Next, record your voiceprint so that the app knows your voice. This involves reading a sentence and not much else. Now, put the device (phone or tablet) down in the middle of the table during a meeting and press the record button. Keep it within reach because you can pause and resume in case there's a break in the proceedings or things get out of hand.

On completion, turn off the app to end the meeting note and recording. It's ready for you to play back. A moment or two of patience and the transcript of the meeting will appear; a separated chunk for each speaker or instance of speaking. It is remarkably quick and remarkably accurate. There are some transcription services that involve uploading a recording and waiting for hours to get a transcription. They are expensive and full of errors. But Otter is really fast and its AI works on the transcription before giving it to the user. No humans see or touch the recordings and transcripts.

The notes and recordings can be labelled, shared with groups or individuals; it also supports names and keywords search - tapping a word jumps to that point in the play back. This is really useful for later reference and action.

Otter is meant for meetings, but can be useful in classroom lectures, one-on-one discussions and even phone calls with the speaker turned on. Otter is very newly minted and has a few bugs. The developers, people who have worked with Nuance - which is virtually the father of speech recognition - want feedback and suggestions and, most of all, more users as they develop the capabilities of the application further.


People with blindness or acute visual impairment use canes, guide dogs or the help of others. Their individual connection with the cities they live in is restricted. Microsoft has an interesting and innovative solution to offer. Soundscapes, a smartphone app, aids the blind while they walk in their city. It requires them to use earphones.

Soundscapes offers the user voice guidance about the shops and places around - a store, an upcoming intersection, a museum or a landmark. Not navigation, but the app is meant to orient the person better and make it possible to be more in touch with the things around, including in conversation with others. The innovative bit about the voice cues is that they are directional and recorded in 3D (directional audio; left, right or front). This makes them even more helpful.

Soundscapes is free on Apple's App store, but isn't available for India; in fact, it is just restricted to a single city for now. The guidance needs to be crowdsourced and inevitably takes a while to build up. The wait for this potentially useful technology will be well worth it.


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