Why Active Readback’s No Steno Man is Wrong

Some have seen this video. I got around to it. I have honest reservations about giving someone like him more press and attention, but then, my audience outnumbers him by a lot, so if you all have the data, it’s a force multiplier and family he doesn’t have. You can tell Readback is terrified of us because they don’t have the guts to leave the comments on and get called out on their lies. Let’s take advantage of their fear.

He likens court reporting to medical transcription. I made a short TikTok on that. I’ve spoken to Mitch Li from Take Medicine Back. Emergency room physicians are being pushed out for nurse practitioners in the same way big money is trying to push us out for digital. Guess what? The doctors largely don’t like that their scribes were pushed out, and the quality of medical transcription has been suffering because of its lean to automation. As a matter of fact, as a young reporter, I was getting requests to get involved with medical transcription (MT). That was only ten years ago. Nowadays the Association for Health Documentation Integrity says there’s a transcriber shortage.

Wow, sounds like the exact excuse they’ll use in court reporting.

It’s so bad that they STILL want to attract court reporters to do medical transcription. So how good was automation for MT anyway?

“Automation is so wonderful, please God send the court reporters to save us.”

Well, isn’t it interesting that jerks like no-steno man (NSM) created problems in an industry that they didn’t bother to stick around and solve? “Oh, people are dying from the reckless automation of something important? Exit stage left. Time to try court reporting!” Guess what? We’re not medical transcriptionists, and we’re not letting you destroy our industry without a fight, you jackalope.

Ultimately, I decided to eviscerate your puffery with cold, hard, facts.

His entire line about automating medical transcription and making it cheaper is fluff. What good is cheap, useless, garbage? And make no mistake that automatic speech recognition, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, or whatever fancy label we want to put on it, is just that. The objective science that exists today says that it’s 25 to 80% accurate from all the major players. When was the last time you had a 20% untran and called yourself “neartime?” This also kills his argument about the technology being revolutionary. He’s comparing our 99% real-world accuracy rating to AI’s 80-at-best average accuracy and calling it revolutionary. This is more like if Google maps led you the wrong way down a one-way street about 20% of the time. It’s not acceptable and we shouldn’t be forced to pretend that it is. If they’re not using full automation, they’re using human transcribers, and that means there are zero efficiency gains from a manpower perspective. This is a hide-the-ball trick of saying technology is better than it actually is to fool investors and consumers. It only fools people who have not seen the trick before.

Next strawman argument by the liar: Court reporting costs have gone up. In actuality, we’re working for less than we were 30 years ago adjusted for inflation. Let’s call this out for what it is, a ploy to get court reporters scared of demanding the rates and pay that they deserve. Less money in our wallets means less money for us to spend on our associations to fight for us. The push to get court reporters to accept less has been largely successful in the last decade, and it has been driven by low-intelligence businesspeople that look at the labor expense as something to be cut no matter who it hurts. There are over a million lawyers in the United States and about 30,000 of us. We’re a rare commodity and need to start acting like it — keeping pricing reasonable, but not abusively low.

Notably, NSM refers to the democratization of technology and talks a good game about how realtime is too expensive for the little guys to afford. Anir Dutta of Stenograph also referred to the democratization of technology in the Speech-to-Text Institute podcast. What does this tell us? This is a coordinated buzzword in whatever business circle they’re all playing in. They’re using democracy as transfer propaganda. Who doesn’t like the sound of democratization in a free society like the United States? This ignores that in actuality adopting his active reporting model would likely hurt democracy in the form of disproportionately hurting the quality of black and minority speakers’ records. We have put immense effort into ensuring everyone has an equal record. Are we willing, as a field, to allow technological snake oil to kill the equality we stand for every day in every proceeding?

The puffery in the advertising is on full display:

Active Readback gets several things wrong in their advertising.

This looks intimidating to a stenographic court reporter that doesn’t grill it a bit. First, questioning our accuracy. How dare they? I just gave the science. They’re not guaranteed accuracy. Nobody can guarantee accuracy. What happens if a word is wrong? Does everyone get the service for free? That would be a guarantee. Tellingly, they make no such promise. Audio available? Stenographers have been using audio for years. It’s called asking nicely or getting a subpoena. Lawyers don’t want to re-listen to depositions anyway, that’s why they hire us. Exhibit handling, stenographers literally led the way and trained clients on that after COVID. The rest of it, hey, we can give all that away for free too, but we like our businesses to be profitable instead of losing $13 million a year like VIQ Solutions. We need profitable businesses so that we can continue to provide the same great service we have for over half a century. NSM’s investors must have their mouths agape. He’s not charging what the market can bear, and that’s a recipe for low returns and disaster in business. I’m pretty sure I learned that in business 101. What’s this guy’s excuse?

The low, flat rate that he talks about in the presentation isn’t really that low, which tells me that this process isn’t automated. Just to break it down, there are stenographers working for less than $4 per page in New York City right now. Assuming 60 pages an hour, that’s $480 for two hours. Lawyers can get the tried and tested stenography for a little bit more than the brand new maybe-this-works-maybe-it-doesn’t Active BS. This isn’t a sell, it’s an embarrassment.

“Active Readback, charging 72% of what a stenographer charges for half the quality, guaranteed.” (Parody)

Final point I’ll address is his mention about the shortage and how the stenotype is “hard on its operators.” We’ve been cremating our shortage despite some of the biggest names in the business, Veritext and US Legal Support, actively sabotaging us. Additionally, our technology is a lot easier on the hands than the Mechanical Turk game that Active and others are probably playing. Mechanical Turk lets services crowdsource transcribers. When people buy into active reporting, they’re likely buying into inefficiency and hurting workers.

Stenographers, I cannot stress this enough: Hold your ground. Our industry is worth $3 billion and we control most of that. The people that are trying to convince you to give up and run away are not doing so out of the kindness of their heart. These are liars, nothing more. Now that I’ve peeled back the curtain and exposed some of the flaws, I hope you will follow the Protect Your Record Project motto of “connect, educate, advocate.” I hope you will follow the STRONG motto of “we are strongest together.” I hope that if you found this blog post helpful, you will take the time to donate below.

I also hope that Active Readback will come on here and comment. We do not cower behind censorship like them. Perhaps that is all the world needs to see to know whose version of events is truest.

The more money I make from my media, the harder I can fight.

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Stenograph’s Disrespect of Stenographers Continues with Texas

Stenograph has been in hot water because of its degradation of quality and service. This led to a boycott of the company by stenographers across the country, a boycott which continues to this day. As stated in my Oh My update, Stenograph’s push into automatic speech recognition is not being done properly. It’s being sold as a productivity boost, but available science says AI/ASR is a productivity killer. Anir Dutta, Stenograph’s embattled president, doesn’t care. He ignored a personal letter from me alerting him to these issues.

As if these issues were not enough, Stenograph promised to meet with Texas Court Reporters Association members and address their concerns. The company then retracted its agreement and set up its own meeting, likely to confuse consumers and attempt to manipulate us. TCRA addressed Stenograph’s behavior as follows:

Stenograph claims its plan is to meet with TCRA members.
Stenograph apparently pulls out because one member they don’t like might be in attendance.
Sonia G. Trevino, TCRA President.

Then, perhaps under the delusion that stenographers are stupid, Stenograph decided to hold its own meeting:

Stenograph attempts to create its own meeting in place of the Texas Court Reporters Association town hall.

This is a bait and switch. This behavior is disgusting and in my opinion we shouldn’t condone it as a field. It’s very clear what’s happening. Stenograph does not have an answer for why it is requiring stenographers to get releases for data it wants to steal from us or the liability it wants to be put on us, as per its licensing agreement:

“You understand you are responsible for obtaining consents and authorizations for data we may or may not be using.” – Stenograph (parody)
“We may be using your data to build our digital reporting products, but you’re not entitled to anything from it, which we’ve just unilaterally decided.” – Stenograph (parody)

Since Stenograph doesn’t have an answer, it doesn’t want to be in a position where that’s revealed. Again, I know factually that there are great people that work for the company and great software trainers for the software. That does not excuse what they’re doing. They’re barreling into automatic speech recognition in a haphazard, might-makes-right, and manipulative way that should give us all pause. We are the profession of blatant honesty. You say it, we write it. Can we not agree that this is not a direction we want a company, one that is practically our namesake, to take?

I have a message for Anir Dutta and Stenograph: We may not be computer programmers or $10 million companies, but human intelligence is not linear, it’s on a bell curve. We are not “stupid scribes” for you to play word games with. Words are all we know. We listen to people for a living, and we know when we’re hearing lies. If you have deluded yourselves into believing that you are so far ahead of all of us on the curve that you can lie to us with impunity, then I offer you the same stenographic proverb I offered Naegeli. TKPWHRUBG.

Stenograph’s Phoenix Won’t Rise From the Ashes

There are two ways to handle the November 4 STTI podcast with Anir Dutta, president of Stenograph. I can go point-by-point and try to poke at every little gripe I have, or I can go “big picture,” give people a rough outline, and let people decide for themselves. But first, let me just point out how obvious it is that STTI is a digital court reporting marketing tool. It’s November 2021, they’ve been around for two years, and they have one podcast. Now let’s compare that to a real field. Anna Mar’s Steno Talk first launched in March and is already on Season 2. Shaunise Day’s Confessions of a Stenographer also has done about 30x the content in the time it’s taken STTI to do one. It seems very strange that the “declining, shifting” industry has so much more content. Maybe there’s a lot more to talk about in an actual industry with actual news.

Now let’s do some big picture work. Artificial intelligence, AI, in its current form, is easy to understand. In brief, programmers use a recipe or instructions called an algorithm to tell a computer what to do. The computer is then fed lots of data. In automatic speech recognition, this data might be people speaking paired with accurate or semi-accurate transcriptions. Simply put, the algorithm tells the computer to go through the data and make future decisions based on patterns. Luckily for us stenographers, real life does not adhere to perfect patterns. Investors and companies that trust computers to make them money off of AI have a big chance of failure. Gartner predicted that 85% of AI business solutions would fail by 2022. We now have a real-life example of this. Zillow was using algorithms to predict the housing market. The value (market capitalization) of Zillow’s shares just plummeted $35 billion. Automatic speech recognition, ASR, which is AI for “hearing” and “transcribing” speech, has much larger companies than Zillow working on it. IBM is one of those companies, and for comparison, their market capitalization is, as of writing, about $103 billion. In a 2020 study of IBM, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, companies with a combined market capitalization (value) of $8.873 trillion, the ASR was 25% to 80% accurate depending on who was speaking. My argument? If these behemoths haven’t figured this out, nobody else is close.

What is Stenograph’s answer to that? They mention in the podcast that they created the engine that their automatic speech recognition is running off of. This is meant to assure the listener that though there is clear science and data that suggests there’s no chance in hell Stenograph’s automatic speech recognition is better than anyone else’s, you should just try it, because there’s no risk to you — you only pay for it if you use it. They know that if they can get you to try it, some of you will experience post-purchase rationalization and keep using it even if it’s not very good. We, as consumers, need to be honest with ourselves. ASR is open source. Anyone can play around with it for free, customize it, and sell their version of it. Whatever Stenograph’s amazing programmers have cooked up is much more likely to be a tweaking or reworking of what is already available than a bona fide original work.

The podcast supports my assertion. It’s heavily laden with corporate propaganda techniques. Some common propaganda examples used generally in tech sales:

  1. Fear appeals: Keep up with the technology or get left behind! Buy! Buy! Buy! OR ELSE.
  2. Bandwagon: If you’re not paying for support, you’re not supporting the profession. EVERYONE must have this.
  3. Name-calling: You don’t like TECHNOLOGY? Luddite! YOUR PROFESSION WILL GO THE WAY OF THE HORSE AND BUGGY, HAHAHA.
  4. Card stacking: Our product is new, and wonderful, and we’ve put a lot of time and effort into it. But we are going to forget to mention that it would hurt minority speakers and allow large private equity companies to offshore your jobs with impunity.
  5. Glittering generalities: Think buzzwords. Increase in productivity. Custom-built engine. If you don’t know exactly what something means, the salesperson does not want you to question it.
  6. Transference: This takes someone’s good feelings about something and tries to transfer it to the company or product. Anir did this during the podcast when he said in the future technology will be “democratized.” We live in a republic that loves the concept of democracy. This is so powerful that when I heard Anir say it, I felt good. Good feelings make it harder to remember the bad things people do to us. It’s not really that different from any abusive relationship, it’s just a business relationship.
  7. Ad nauseam: Repeat the same message over and over. If no one stands in your way, it becomes truth. For example, did you know technology is getting better every day? I guess someone forgot to tell that to whatever technology powers Stenograph customer service. Or perhaps technology is not getting better every day and that is a story we are sold ad nauseam.

I do not believe these things to be inherently evil or wrong. A sale is a sale. But when salespeople are used as instruments of ignorance, the wielder has gone too far.

On the topic of tools, some have pointed to our field’s adoption of audio sync and how that was widely hated and is now ubiquitous. Let me go on record and say audio sync hurt our field. Agencies started telling my generation of reporters “don’t interrupt, just let the audio catch it.” We trained an entire generation to sit there like potted plants while testimony was lost. No wonder so many from my generation left the field. They never developed the crucial skill of communicating our need to get every word. Dealing with the very simple skill of asking for a repeat became a harrowing and dreadful experience. More than that, audio sync kills productivity. In a dense layout, my transcription time is somewhere in the ballpark of 20 pages an hour. I used to use audio sync, and on a bad day, my transcription time was probably half that. I doubled my productivity by completely rejecting the “new” technology. I don’t disparage people that use audio sync, it’s a tool in our arsenal. Almost every reporter I know uses it to some degree. But beyond our post-purchase rationalization of “it is a wonderful tool for us,” I have not seen empirical evidence or reliable data that suggests it improved productivity or profit. It made us feel better because we could let some stuff go, and now it’s being weaponized to say “see, that worked out okay! This will too!”

On or about November 2, 2021, I wrote to Anir Dutta via snail mail. A copy will be downloadable below. I was very honest about my intentions. Stenograph had a chance to stop the boycott and didn’t even try.

Maybe its trainers should sue the company for the lost income experienced during the boycott. There’s federal law against false advertising in 15 USC Section 1125. Seems to me that by continuing to press the ASR to consumers against available data and evidence, Stenograph has set itself and its independent trainers up for a massive loss. Stenograph is also potentially cutting into the earnings of its customers by pushing its ASR as a productivity booster when it may very well turn out to be a productivity killer. So if the company continues down this path and finds itself facing lawsuits, you read it here first.

Just to drive home my point about tech sales, I created a computer program that produces thousands of transcript pages a minute. The program code and a sample transcript are available for download.

Then I announced to the world that my brand new program could do transcripts faster than every stenographer in the country. None of you can disprove that. It’s true.

Tell your clients $1 per transcript. This is the situation we are all living together. Caveat emptor.

Day 1 of Stenograph Boycott, Company Releases Pro-Steno Teaser

My Facebook page has become the steno channel. If it’s good for the working reporter, it’s on my page.

And though it may be difficult to read, I do try to keep it entertaining.

Christopher Day calls for Stenograph boycott, November 2021

For anyone that doubts calling out the bad customer service and horrible PR blunders is having an impact, you can stop doubting now. For the first time since March, Stenograph threw up a pro-stenographer image on its Instagram.

Stenograph Instagram, 11/17/21

Truth be told, I still view this sort of thing as corporate appeasement. They hope you will forget that they are screwing the students you mentor and continue to purchase their products and services. It’s a great sign that the Stenograph company wants to appease stenographers, because it means that we represent a large enough part of their customer base that pulling out would hurt. Withdrawing our support would matter. If more reporters heed my words and pull out fast and hard, we’ll be able to end this a lot sooner.

But seeing that image got me curious. I rolled through the Instagram to see the last time a comparable image was posted. There are some nice pictures advertising Q&A by Cyndi Lynch (who is awesome) and some marketing stuff, but nothing nice like this. While that’s a somewhat subjective measure, you can go through all the images yourself and see that the company hasn’t featured a person paired with a stenotype since about March.

The top left is November 2021, the bottom right is March 2021, Stenograph’s Instagram.

I will be covering the STTI podcast with Anir Dutta, Stenograph’s president, soon. In the meantime, if you’re completely confused, just see what I wrote to a student asking about my shenanigans on Reddit.

Follow me and our field gets results. Stenograph is eager to jump into a technology that will disproportionately hurt minority speakers. We are in a unique position to stop that.

Is Stenograph Sabotaging Stenographer Software Support?

It was reported to me that a call to Stenograph’s support yesterday took an entire 30 minutes of wait time. At the end of that 30 minutes, the call disconnected. The stenographer called back and was then forced to sit on the phone waiting about another 15 minutes. 45 minutes from call to resolution for someone that paid $139 for help with upgrading their software, on top of the support contract, which cost about $700 a year! I was just kidding about it being reported to me, I was physically present when it happened.

And this is not an isolated incident. It’s been an ongoing problem for months — Stenograph’s shoddy service, that is.

This is on top of reports that Luminex II is cracking in the same spot on the shell for multiple reporters. Maybe we should all start comparing notes and seeing if we are being sold defective products.

The problem is so bad that it simply cannot be hidden.

“I haven’t called today, but the last few weeks I had to call several times, and I have to wait a long time. Twice I just hung up and figured it out for myself.” -Stenograph Customer*
“Happened to me last week. It was actually worse than the IRS, and that’s saying something.” – Stenograph Customer*
“They’ve always been that way. Eclipse blows them away.” – Stenograph Customer*
“Switch to Eclipse and it won’t be a problem lol” – Stenograph Customer*

It wasn’t all bad news though. They pull through for some of the people some of the time.

But they don’t fool all of the people all of the time. Stenograph is taking our money for support and then keeping us waiting on queues like we’re an inconvenience. They’re relying on our politeness and silence. Let me be the one to break the silence: This is wrong. We were propagandized for years to tell us that we needed support, and now the quality of that support is declining while Stenograph tries to build and sell its ASR business off our backs and with our money.

I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter if Stenograph is sabotaging us. It leaves us to seek solutions to the problems we’re perceiving. Stenograph owners, the science shows ASR is a snake oil market. Make me a fair offer on the company, see if I can crowdfund the purchase. Much better than a boycott — we can get those trainers raking in the dough and make your employees happy too! Mr. Dutta can move on to some industry that doesn’t have a man with a blog. We all win. ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

The alternative is to boycott Stenograph and buy it when it’s up for bankruptcy. It’s just business.

*There is no evidence that any of the comments were from Stenograph customers.

Stenograph’s Public Relations Problem

Some will have seen the scathing post I made on Friday about Stenograph’s survey. They wanted to know if court reporters cared about tall or short keys, and I pointed out that such a concern was a waste of time and effort. This is on the heels of news months ago from Stenograph customers that they were unable to log into their software. But the question remains, how do you get me, a stenographer that has exclusively used Stenograph products for 11 years, to write something like this?

Simple. Stenograph has been making moves to cuddle up with digital court reporting and ASR. We know this from who they’re hiring.

We know this from who they’re talking to. Stenograph cuddled up with anti-stenographer writer Victoria Hudgins after the customer base complained about the logo change. How do I know she’s anti-stenographer? I wrote her over a year ago to point out that Stenograph apparently gave Legal Tech a stock photo and that there were several inconsistencies with the companies, news reporting, and technologies at play. Was any of that addressed? No. So Hudgins writes as an “analyst” but does not actually appear to do any analyzing beyond the chosen narrative — very much like STTI. This is in stark contrast to other organizations like NCRA, NVRA, and Global Alliance, all of whom are far more fair and balanced in the way they present ASR and digital reporting than how stenography is treated by Hudgins, Cudahy, STTI, or even the AAERT.

We also know that Anir Dutta, President of Stenograph —

— is on the board of STTI.

[sic]

And we know that STTI is a digital reporting propaganda outfit. So it’s undeniable that Stenograph is diversifying. Under normal circumstances, we could maybe call that smart. But these are not normal circumstances. This is a world where we know ASR and digital reporting will hurt minority speakers. We know digital reporting outfits like VIQ Solutions are not turning a profit. We know that the shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext and US Legal. Stenograph is diversifying under the belief that there will be a drop in supply of stenographers and a rise in demand. The data we have today says the demand may not be rising as quickly as anticipated and the supply is not falling as quickly as anticipated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data may also be wrong. In short, Stenograph is diversifying out of a market where its stenographer customers will likely reign supreme. We also know that they’re in such a rush to diversify that they branded over Phoenix theory with Phoenix ASR. Not too subtle about paving over us there.

I’m not the only one to feel that way. Massachusetts Court Reporters figured that all out too, and released an open letter earlier this week. The letter was reportedly also sent to Anir Dutta via email.

In full disclosure, I did help draft an initial copy of this letter, but what was ultimately released was way better than what I wrote. I also wrote a physical letter to Anir Dutta on November 2, which I will release someday in the future, assuming the company does not change direction. It is my sincere belief and hope that he is not against us. I think that he saw what happened to Kodak and he tried to adopt digital as a way of preventing Stenograph from sharing the same fate. A lot of the stuff we know about digital reporting companies today, we did not know when he started at Stenograph. But even if he has no animosity towards us, it will not stop him from making decisions that negatively impact our field, and so to the degree that Stenograph and Anir Dutta make decisions like that, the ball is in our court to stop them.

Now, stenographers, the important thing you need to keep your eye on is how the company responds to all of this. If the writing was on the wall and stenography was doomed™️, they wouldn’t care what you think. Put it this way: Have you ever asked yourself what a T-Rex would think of you? Probably not, because all the T-Rex’s that might have thought about you are dead. We know the writing is not on the wall and that our thoughts and opinions matter very much. How do we know? Stenograph commented on the situation.

And, of course, realizing that if we actually get Stenograph to change direction, the shortage fraud gets exposed, Jim Cudahy did his best to broadcast the message.

Just to be clear about why I’m not nice to Cudahy, he was the Executive Director of NCRA, urged the organization to commission the Ducker Report and learn about the stenographer shortage, and then used his previous title with NCRA to lend credibility to his false and misleading claims that the shortage is impossible to solve. People familiar with this situation basically point to him as the man that weaponized our shortage against us. The jump from NCRA to STTI was not the result of some profound change in technology, it was opportunism, plain and simple.

What I need court reporters to understand now is simple: You have all of the power in this situation. You tell the company as loudly as possible that you will not buy another product and that you will not recommend the company to a single student from now until the end of time unless they change direction, and they will change direction. If they do not change direction, it is clear just how much we meant to them, and it should make it even easier to walk away. If they change direction, I’ll be the first to say GO STENOGRAPH. Until then? I have to lean boycott. It’s our best play and the most direct way we have of influencing the company. Take all the anger we routinely experience via social media and channel it into something very simple and healthy for us all.

Now, inevitably, some will look at Stenograph’s response and want to side with the company. But here are some things to consider for each bullet.

1. Stenograph states it continues to invest heavily in Luminex II and CaseCATalyst. Maybe so. But let’s not shy away from talking about how quickly the company discontinues support for its products. When I was a young reporter in 2010, I was told by teachers that my first machine should be paper. I failed to follow their advice and I bought a Diamante. Not long after, Stenograph sold its paper business and systematically shut down support for anything “old.” My rebellious decision ended up being a smart one. The company does that so much now that we don’t even discuss it as a field. It’s kind of like the EA Games of Court Reporting.

2. Stenograph states it has doubled the number of engineers working on writing enhancements. This is impressive if the engineering team is fairly large, but for all we know they had one person working on it and doubled it to two.

3. Stenograph is releasing a new CaseCAT version in the future and is committed to continuous releases on an ongoing basis. There is no actual commitment here. If they change their mind, they can just say they were committed at the time.

4. Proof It, which is supposed to be ASR for stenographers, will allegedly improve efficiency 40%. There’s no actual reason to believe this claim since ASR from the largest ASR providers in the world is 25 to 80% accurate. 40% is pretty close to 50%. A real 50% efficiency gain would mean transcribing jobs in half the time. If Stenograph created something that could cut transcription time BASICALLY in half, they would be letting you know about that every second of every day until you bought in. Instead it is tucked away in this response.

5. Stenograph claims it continues to have dedicated stenographic teams, but again, this is actually not a commitment. A dedicated team can be dedicated to any number of things. They can be dedicated to digital reporting and stenographic reporting. In a field where two of the largest companies inflate numbers by a factor of six to fool stenographers, it’s not incredibly surprising Stenograph would play with some words in a perfectly legal puffery-like way. It would also be pretty dumb to maintain separate dedicated teams, since you’d be paying effectively double to staff the company.

6. Stenograph announced a partnership of Caseview Net with vTestify. It’s possible this supports my belief that Stenograph is not actively against us but rather being misled. vTestify was that silly company that I blasted for saying it could save attorneys $3,000 on a deposition. After that, they started working more on being a platform and less on being a service. So this, to me, says that Stenograph’s leadership just doesn’t know some things about our field. They wouldn’t tout a relationship with vTestify if they did.

7. Stenograph is committed to growing the profession. And they support this with their Project Steno donations. I hate to punch down on an effort that I commend, because I do commend Stenograph and every company that donates to pro steno initiatives. I actually wrote about Stenograph’s donation in a positive way when it happened. I like Project Steno and I often mention it right alongside A to Z and Open Steno. But at the end of the day we have to realize that Project Steno is a write off and there is a benefit to companies PR-wise and monetarily to donate to it. At this point, it comes off as a publicity stunt to get us quietly accepting the company’s lean away from us. Let’s face facts, NCRA dumped its corporate sponsorship program, US Legal and their pals realized they couldn’t get the NCRA to push the digital product for them, and ever since then there’s been this bizarre “separate but equal” stance where companies just happen to support Project Steno over NCRA or NCRF. Considering that NCRA is basically THE trade association for stenographers, it’s easy to see that the goal is to undermine the stranglehold stenographers have on the market. That’s basically how I regard Project Steno at this point. A convenient place for all the entities not supporting NCRA to point and say “we care about steno too!” It’s called hedging.

8. Stenograph donates hours of training. Most vendors donate when asked. It’s kind of a chicken and egg, cost of doing business thing. You have a society of people, court reporters and stenographers. You have organizations that try to bring these people together, like NCRA. Playing ball with the organization that gives you access to your customers is called par for the course.

9. Stenograph uses a dedicated technical support team. Again, the word dedicated doesn’t even mean anything to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if the “dedicated” tech support is outsourced in whole or in part, just like their stock photo office picture.

I asked some of my audience to give me their comments on Stenograph’s bullets. This is some of what your fellow reporters say:

Respondent A: “My thoughts on it – One of the best things my dad ever told me was “You should always listen to what people have to say, but it’s more important to watch what they do.”

This is a typical PR response, and it sounds nice. But what I see Stenograph doing is channeling their resources to directly compete with their primary customers. What I see is Stenograph entering into increased alliances with STTI (a digital front, despite what they say), and AAERT. What I saw from Stenograph at the NCRA convention was a booth and their separate training offering (I think people had to pay for that in addition to the convention, but I’m unsure on that. If so, then they didn’t “donate” the training.) I saw a decreased level of event sponsorship. When I open the JCR, I no longer see any ads from Stenograph. These actions certainly indicate to me that while of course they would like to keep their steno customers, their focus is now on their digital product.

And I’d like to know if by integrating their realtime platform (CaseView) with VTestify, they plan to mine those transcripts to improve the AI for their digital program.”

Respondent B: “Thanks for sharing. The language in that post and PDF is basic and appears to have been written by a sales executive. Not a whole lot of depth there.

Two things:

Are they going to begin manufacturing and/or selling digital recording equipment?

Their last bullet point appears to be more about shortening their customer service employees’ time on service calls. The language is unclear about their policy or commitment to meeting their stenographic customers’ needs.”

Again, one thing is for sure. If the writing was on the wall, Stenograph wouldn’t care what you have to say. It has tipped its hand and admitted it cares very much. Use your collective power as consumers and walk away until the company is behaving in a manner that is actually accountable to you and not lip service. Let them know that’s what’s happening. Let them know it’s because of me if you want to. They’re using their position as a tech company to make you feel unqualified to judge their product. Meanwhile, when you ask someone like Stanley Sakai, someone that knows computer programming and steno, he can tell you why we use stenotypes. I can too. Why can’t Stenograph? The company has a monetary incentive not to. Take that away and you have a company with no choice but to support us or fold. If the company was on solid ground, we wouldn’t be able to cut through its arguments like Darth Vader cutting through rebel troops at the end of Rogue One. The company’s condition today is not our fault and we shouldn’t feel guilty about using it to our advantage. Certainly no one in this industry has felt guilty about using us.

AI Researchers Have Similar Expectation & Belief Problems to Ours

Much of my writing has been built around a very serious revelation that the belief that automation will take away jobs is killing industries. I focus on court reporting, but it’s happening everywhere. People are scared to become truckers because of Elon Musk’s claims that he will automate trucking. I’ve looked to many other industries to illustrate this. For other examples, take how it was assumed Uber would take over the world but it hasn’t made any profit or how it was assumed Theranos would revolutionize blood testing and it was all a big scam. Their actions had real-world consequences. To this day, the value of taxi medallions in New York City are decimated thanks to Uber even though it is, as of yet, not a sustainable business model. Technological hype can do big damage.

Well, as a proud subscriber to MIT Tech Review, I came across 10/15/2020 article by Will Douglas Heaven, “Artificial general intelligence, are we close, and does it even make sense to try?” This topic is of great interest to me. After all, the perfection of speech recognition automation would probably put me out of a job and I’m one of the many trying to tell people belief in AI is overblown and that ASR really can’t stand in for a stenographer. I have a moral obligation to keep on top of this stuff so that you don’t have to. Most of the article dives into a distinction between the current model of AI, machine learning, versus a concept called artificial general intelligence, or an AI that could colloquially “do it all.”

And you know what I find, reading that article? They have just as much fear as us. Their AI-centered businesses can fail all the same. They can burn through $20 million in late 90s money and still walk away with no real product.

“We are on the verge of a transition…” 1998. Arguably, we were, but we still don’t have digital brains on the internet as described here.

They have the same issue with charismatic figures promising or claiming things that have little or no basis in reality.

“Superhuman AI less than 5 years away” versus “He has no idea what he’s talking about.”

Unrealistic expectations can absolutely destroy their field. In ours, this plays out as people not believing it is a viable job. In theirs, this could play out as investors taking all that money propping them up and going somewhere else with it. This has happened before and is referred to as “AI winter.”

They’ve been dealing with AI interest boom and bust since the 1970s.

There’s a lot to be learned by looking directly at what’s going on in technology today. Perhaps most pressing for us is the realization that there is not some kind of magic unending growth built into technological progress. The last century, and particularly the last couple of decades, changed humanity. Technology exploded from no TV, to black and white TV, to the home entertainment centers we have today. Many of us are under a belief that technology will always grow at that pace. We are encouraged to think that not only due to our collective experience, having lived through the technological leap, but also encouraged by the people who stand to gain the most from people buying into that belief and investing into that belief.

Money and attention.

So what we are left with is the same thing I have been writing about for years. The digital reporting stuff is not about efficiency, technology, or anything particularly new or special. It’s about worker exploitation. It’s about moving the field away from one that has a strong support system to one that has no support system or where the support system is controlled by the business owners. It’s about getting you court reporters to believe “technology magic” is taking away your job so that you don’t fight to keep it. In reality, there was a genuine attempt to shift our NCRA that way with Plan B. That failed. We got NCRA 2.0. NCRA 2.0 balanced the budget and put its members before its corporate sponsors, which only US Legal corporate reps appear to have a problem with. Since the corporate powers that be couldn’t get NCRA to kill our industry for us, they threw a tantrum and started pretending NCRA didn’t exist.

Seems like conspiracy theory territory! Except it’s no theory. Check out Benjamin Jaffe. He writes a whole article this year about how digital is the answer to our shortage. But he’s affiliated with BlueLedge.

BlueLedge… sounds familiar.

And what is BlueLedge? A training provider for digital reporting that is basically pretending stenographers don’t exist.

Today we show appreciation to everyone except the bulk of the field, stenographers and voice writers.

To use the words of Dineen Squillante, we are being “out-marketed” rather than losing by any objective metric. The entire game on the digital reporting side has been exposed “we are going to push our version of the future. We don’t care who this hurts.” Guess what, stenographic reporters? Our nonprofits are better funded. Our social groups and support systems are bigger. Our students pools are larger and more invested. All we have left to do is acknowledge our own collective bigness and put our thumb on the scale. We need to start being very vocal about our industry and the projects we are working on.

To that end, if you have court reporting or captioning industry news and you’d like to get it reprinted, please contact me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com. We can work out a deal where I can use the skills I have built to get your work some extra exposure, you can get your stuff in circulation, and I can use some of the profit to create more steno advertising rather than rely on the incredible generosity of donations. A price point of $200 to $400 per news event is the target. It’s calculated to keep this venture going strong and beat out the deceptive marketing from the digital camp. Even if your organization cannot meet the $200 cost, please reach out. A lack of publicity pushed our field down to where it is today. We can reverse direction there, but we won’t reverse that without a little time, effort, and togetherness.

I Figured Out Why ASR Is So Hard To Perfect

Yesterday I noted the racial disparities in automatic speech recognition study and how modern ASR did worse than the estimates provided in an old patent. I also noted humans are built to get better at just about anything they do. I just so happen to think about this court reporting and automatic speech recognition stuff a lot. It finally hit me why automatic speech recognition has made little real progress in the last 20 years: Language drift. The way that people speak and write English tends to change over time. Great example? I’m a gamer but I’m not entrenched in gamer culture. When someone about six years younger than me said “I’m getting bodied,” I had almost no clue what he was talking about. He was getting beat up by the other team! If you took a look at the video I linked, it explains how words and nomenclature changed drastically in English. Early English, to me, sounded much more French than anything we know today. If you go back only about 650 years, you reach a point where you are unlikely to understand the English language. Giraffes used to be camelopards. “Verily” used to be a word that people used. Even worse, there was no electricity to charge our stenotypes yet. To the chagrin of English purists, language drift appears inevitable. But this is also why we need real people studying and mastering English. It gives the rest of us a fighting chance. That’s why a computer program could never do for court reporting what Margie Wakeman Wells did. The computer would only regurgitate the same rules again and again, never reviewing or assessing new information unless a real person told it to.

What does that have to do with automatic speech recognition and court reporting? Our verbal and written languages are changing over time. That’s why literally now means figuratively, literally! ASR is based off of machine learning. It’s unlikely to ever perfect English because English is ever evolving and never perfect. Let’s say a company compiles enough data and creates an algorithm so perfect that it can accurately understand every single one of the billions of speakers on the planet today. Every single day after that moment, the speech patterns would change just a little bit and would be unrecognizable to the system someday. Of course, there is not a single country or corporation on the planet allocating enough money or personnel to gather that much data in the first place!

As a secondary matter, a system trained to understand all English dialects is inherently less likely to work than a system trained to understand only standard English as far as I know. I’ve written extensively about how bad ASR was with AAVE, as low as 25%. If we train a system for AAVE and data suited for that, there is a high likelihood that it would have worse accuracy for standard speakers. Gain ground on one type of speaker and lose ground on the other. The main way to compensate for that would be to have a trained operator use a specific voice profile to select the speaker. Guess what? That’s voice writing, something our industry figured out two decades ago.

This is not to say we shouldn’t continue to train and be at the top of our game. But my thoughts on AI are shifting from what they were. I used to believe there was some small possibility we would be replaced. I am coming to a place where I do not see us as replaceable under the current model of ASR without a trained operator in every seat. If we’re going to do that, stenography is the way to go!

Thank you to recent donors. My PayPal is open to receive donations for those that wish to contribute to the cost of running the blog. If you don’t want to give something for “nothing,” I also designed a Sad Iron Stenographer mug on Zazzle. The cheaper one, I will make about $0.90 for every sale. The more expensive one, I will make about $10 for every sale. They are both identical mugs, so buy whichever you find to be more appropriate. Nothing will make your Mondays happier than the sad iron stenographer, I guarantee* it.

*Product is not guaranteed to make Mondays happier.

What Is Realtime Voice Writing and Why Is It Better Than Digital Reporting?

In our field there are three main modalities for taking the record or captioning. There is stenography, voice writing, and digital recording. Stenography is using a chorded stenotype and computer dictionary to instantaneously take down and transcribe the spoken word. Digital recording is all about letting a microphone pick up the audio and having somebody transcribe it after the fact. Sometimes digital recording proponents insist that they can run the audio through automatic speech recognition (ASR) systems to “assist the transcriber.” I’ve been pretty open about my feelings there.

Transcribers and digital reporters can do better switching to steno.

There are also nonprofits representing each modality. NCRA is all-in for steno. NVRA admits stenographers, but in my mind is really more for voice writers, and rightfully so. AAERT is pro-recording. ATSP is pro-transcriber to the extent it has any court reporting industry presence. There are others like Global Alliance or STTI that claim to be for all three modalities, but I’ve always gotten a “jack of all trades, master of none” vibe from those types of associations.

From information available to me, I believe that NCRA is by far the largest organization and in the best position to handle the court reporter shortage, but NVRA does provide an incredibly important role in certifying voice writers. One common problem in the early years of voice writing, which some New York attorneys still hold against them, was that occasionally they could be heard through the mask. Even now, when there is a lot of sibilance, one can infrequently hear a voice writer through the mask. Modern certification requires that the voice writer is able to perform without being heard, and a two-strike policy is employed in which the first time a writer is heard during a test they are tapped on the shoulder. The second time they are heard, they are disqualified. Voice writing tests, like ours, give the voice writer one shot at getting their “voice notes” correct. They are not allowed to repeat or review the test audio. This kind of testing is important and represents the quality standards this industry needs. NVRA confirmed its testing policy in an 8/11/21 e-mail to me.

No audibility within two feet.

Most reporters know that voice writing is, at its core, speaking into a Stenomask or other voice mask and allowing automatic speech recognition to assist in the transcription of what’s said. In some settings, a voice writer may use an open mic. Some stenographic reporters may be surprised to learn that realtime voice writing is superior to digital reporting and general ASR use. In general ASR use, the microphone takes input from everyone and the computer system gives its best guess based on the training data it has. In a study from last year, it was shown that that technology’s accuracy could drop as low as 25% dependent on who is speaking. Realtime voice writing, by comparison, is a trained operator, the voice writer, often speaking into a closed microphone, and utilizing ASR that has been trained to that writer’s voice. In the best of circumstances, that ASR can reliably put out highly accurate transcriptions of the voice writer’s voice — as high as 98%. Many realtime voice writers utilize Dragon by Nuance connected to their preferred CAT software. I guesstimate that Nuance has the best ASR tech, and there’s no coincidence that despite all the other ASR vendors out there, Nuance is the one Microsoft wanted to buy. This lead in technology comes from the system being trained to understand the specific user or voice writer.

One important distinction is the difference between realtime voice writers and voice writers that speak into the mask and have someone else transcribe and do the work. This is very similar to the divide in stenographic reporting where some scopists report having to fill in huge chunks of information missed by the court reporter. A realtime voice writer, like a realtime stenographer, does not have to provide realtime services, but they do maintain the equipment and capability to do so.

The knowledge and preparedness of the voice writer is integral to the integrity of the record produced. Think of all the glitches and anomalies in stenographic CAT software. Think about how reporters create macros and dictionary workarounds every day to deal with them. As an easy example, my software does not like certain punctuation marks to be together. Early in my career, I worked out that placing a backslash between the two marks and then deleting it would override the software’s programming to delete punctuation. Similarly, voice writers have to deal with the complexities of the ASR system, the CAT software, and how they interact in order to overcome word boundary and formatting issues.

The understanding and maintenance of a voice writer’s equipment is also paramount. How the computer “hears” a writer’s voice in one microphone can be vastly different than another microphone. Different masks can be given different training configurations to enhance the ASR transcription. Voice writers are speaking into a mask, and where saliva or liquid gets into the mask it can alter what the computer hears. The competent voice writer monitors their realtime and keeps redundant equipment in case of an equipment failure, including extra masks and multiple audio backups of their “voice notes.” As someone who keeps two stenotypes in case one decides to die mid-trial, I admire the voice writers that take the time to ensure the show goes on in the event of computer problems.

Like us, there are many briefs or triggers voice writers use. The key difference is that they must speak the “steno.” The same way we must come up with a stroke for designating a speaker, they must come up with a voice command. The same way that stenographers must differentiate the word “period” from the punctuation symbol of a period, voice writers historically had to create differentiations. For example, in years gone by, they might have had to say “peerk” for the symbol and “period” for the word. Modern ASR systems are sometimes able to differentiate the word versus the mark without any special command or input from the voice writer! Again, the experience and ability to predict how the software will interpret what is said is an important skill for the realtime voice writer.

The obvious question arises as to why this blog tends to be silent on voice writing. There’s no overt hostility there and deep admiration for the people at the top of the voice writing modality of record taking. Simply put, I truly believe that stenographic reporting is better and will open more doors for students. That’s colored by my own experiences. As of today, voice writers are not allowed to work in my court and be in my civil service title. We can argue about whether they should be allowed, but the simple fact is that New York courts today tend to utilize stenographic reporting or digital recording. It’s easy to see that the qualified voice writer is a far better choice than the digital recording, but I couldn’t say to a student “get into voice writing! You’ll have the same opportunities as I do!”

I also have to present a warning to voice writers and stenographers. I have seen many of us fall into the mindset of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We are much closer to each other than either modality is to digital reporting for the simple reason that we like our jobs. Digital reporting proponents have made little effort to hide that their ultimate goal is to offshore the jobs to Manila, Kenya, India, or wherever they can. Digital reporting proponents want to pay stenographers and voice writers less than half of what they’re worth. Digital reporting proponents don’t even respect their own digital reporters, which is why I’ve suggested those people join the stenographic legion.

There is a tumultuous history between stenographic court reporters and voice writers. I’ve been told by multiple NCRA members that when an effort was made to include voice writers about two decades ago, there was heavy backlash and even some harassment that occurred against those that were pro-integration. That was the climate of yesterday. While it seems unlikely that there will be formal alliance, inclusion, or cooperation, the separation we see today is not the same violent rejection of voice writers from the early 2000s. The civility of NCRA’s 2021 business meeting showed that court reporters are ready to disagree without belligerence and keep our industry moving forward. This is more akin to why the North American Olive Oil Association probably doesn’t partner much with the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Olive oil and fish oil are both fine oils, but every second and cent spent advocating for one could be spent advocating for the other. It doesn’t make much sense to divide the time and resources. That’s where we are today. What the future holds for tomorrow, I can only imagine.

A big thank you to everyone that made this article possible, up to and including the NVRA. One source of my information was the esteemed Tori Pittman. Trained in both stenography and voice writing, Tori gave me a full demonstration of voice writing and agreed to speak at length about voice writing. See the full interview below!

Gartner: 85% of AI Implementations Will Fail By 2022

A series of 2019 predictions by Gartner were reported on by Venture Beat on June 28, 2021. As explained in a prior post, “AI”, or machine learning, relies on datasets and algorithms. If the data is imperfect or incomplete, a computer has a chance of giving bad output. If the algorithm that tells the computer what to do with the data is imperfect, the computer has a chance of giving bad output. It’s easy to point to anecdotal cases where “AI” makes a bad call. There have been reports of discrimination in facial recognition technology, driverless cars killing people, or Amazon’s algorithm deciding to fire drivers that are doing their job. I’ve seen plenty of data on the failings of overhyped technology and commercial ASR. What I hadn’t seen prior to today was somebody willing to put a number on the percentage of AI solutions that succeed. Today, we have that number, and it’s an abysmal 15%.

Perhaps this will not come as a surprise to my readers, considering prior reports that automatic speech recognition (ASR), an example of machine learning, is only 25 to 80 percent accurate depending on who’s speaking. But it will certainly come as a surprise to investors and companies that are dumping money into these technologies. Now there’s a hard number to consider. And that 15% itself is misleading. It’s a snapshot of the total number of implementations, not just ASR. ASR comprises a percentage of the total number of implementations out there. And it’s so bad that some blogs are starting to claim word error rate isn’t really that important.

Judge,
I know I botched 20 percent of the words.
But word error rate really isn’t that important.

That 15% is also misleading in that it’s talking about solutions that are implemented successfully. It is not talking about implementations that provide a positive return on investment (ROI). So imagine having to go to investors and say “our AI product was implemented with 100% success, but there’s still no money in this.”

The Venture Beat article goes on to describe several ways to make AI implementation a success, and I think it’s worth examining them briefly here.

  1. Customizing a solution for each environment. No doubt that modeling a solution for every single business individually is bound to make that solution more successful, but it’s also going to take more staff and money. This would be almost like every court reporting company having their own personal software development staff to build their own CaseCAT or Eclipse. Why don’t they do that? It’s hopelessly expensive.
  2. Using a robust and scalable platform. The word robust doesn’t really mean anything in this context. Scalability is tied to modular design — the ability to swap out parts of the program that don’t work for specific situations. For this, you need somebody bright and forward thinking. They have to have the capability to design something that can be modified to handle situations they may not even be aware exist. With the average software engineer commanding in the ballpark of $90,000 a year and the best of them making over $1 million a year, it’s hopelessly expensive.
  3. Staying on course once in production. This involves reevaluating and sticking with something that may appear to be dysfunctional. This would be almost like the court reporter coming to the job, botching the transcript, and the client going “yes, I think I’ll use that guy again so that I can get a fuller picture of my operational needs.” It’s a customer service nightmare.
  4. Adding new AI use cases over time. Piggybacking on number 3, who is going to want to continue to use AI solutions to patch what the first solution fails to address? This is basically asking businesspeople to trust that it will all work out while they burn money and spend lots of time putting out the fire. It’s a customer service nightmare.

I really respect Venture Beat trying to keep positive about AI in business, even if it’s a hopelessly expensive customer service nightmare.

With some mirth, I have to point out to those in the field that believe the stenographer shortage is an insurmountable problem that we now know machine learning in the business world has a failure rate that’s right up there with stenographic education’s failure rate. Beyond the potential of exploiting digital reporters or stealing investor money, what makes this path preferable to the one that has worked for the last hundred years? As I wrote a week ago, the competition is going to wise up. Stenographic court reporters are the sustainable business model in this field, and to continue to pretend otherwise is nothing short of fraud.