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Posted by on Feb 19, 2009 in Guest Contributor, Science & Technology | 16 comments

Kill “Qwerty”! (Guest Voice)


by Marc Pascal

Why do computers still have keyboards? They represent a quaint vestige of their predecessor typewriters that were invented 130 years ago.

The “qwerty” keyboard was patented by Christopher Latham Sholes under U.S. Patent #207,559 issued on August 27, 1878. The original patent did not even include separate keys for the numbers 0 & 1 – ironically the only two numbers used by computers. Ever since then, “qwerty” has been the overwhelming typewriter format and the basis of all computer keyboard systems for western Latin-based languages.

It makes little sense, that in order to input information into a computer, or to use the many new instruments that permit text-messaging, we still have to use our hands and fingers. The closest medium that follows our mental thoughts is the spoken word, though many people including Vice-President Biden let their mouths run ahead from time to time. Even if speaking for most of us is still slower than our thoughts, it is far faster than typing or texting. These finger-based input mechanisms are a huge waste of time, and sometimes they become dangerous distractions.

We need a 21st century voice-recognition system for all computers and phone/text devices that would accurately and quickly write down our words from normal speech and correctly follow our verbal instructions. There exist a few rudimentary programs out there for the handicapped, but they are still not very user friendly or particularly accurate to justify wide distribution. The touch-screen computer monitors address a completely unrelated need from this particular challenge.

The Federal government should promptly announce an international competition and offer a tax-exempt $1 billion prize package including an enforceable U.S. patent, to the best spoken-language voice-recognition technology that comprehensively, reliably, accurately and effectively replaces typing and texting.

This competition should unleash quite a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and get the U.S. back in front with technological developments that will benefit the entire world. If the winner came from overseas and the technology could simultaneously understand British, Indian, Australian and American English, plus many of the various national dialects, that person or group of people should get immediate U.S. citizenship as well.

For a society that went to the moon, invented the personal computer and the Internet, mapped the human genome, and recently devised mortgage-backed securities, credit-default swaps, and variable-rate interest-only no-money-down balloon mortgages that can default effortlessly to create a massive economic meltdown, we can certainly create the technology to put our spoken words into a written text format without the use of our fingers.

Once a text is created, we should also be able to edit it by oral input as well. Of course, the general public and traditionalists should always have the option to write and edit using a keyboard. This would be a worthwhile option if a person is suffering from an illness that inhibits speaking or is in a place where speaking is not possible. However, we and future generations should not be tied down to an 1878 patent and mindset to communicate with each other in the 21st century.

Marc Pascal has J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio 20 years ago. He worked for many years as an in-house legal counsel for several large business enterprises and later started 4 new ventures with partners. He now lives in Phoenix with his wife and young son. He is an independent business and management consultant who provides consulting services to various privately-held business enterprises in the Phoenix area.