Black Friday Sale — Verbit News for Free

Thanks to a posting by Cassandra Caldarella from Cover Crow, I stumbled across a November 23 article by Verbit. They’ve got another round of funding (series E), and the valuation is upward of a billion dollars. But before my general critique and news, let me just share that I shared all we’ve uncovered with the author of that November 23 article, Rhys Dipshan. Verbit claims it serves the court reporting industry.

“Verbit Secures $250 Million Series E Funding With Plans for Europe Expansion” 11/23/21

I object. In reality, the court reporting industry largely rejects Verbit. It’s only die-hard digital proponents like Kentuckiana and shops mired in controversy like US Legal Support that continue to support Verbit’s revenue stream, ostensibly through business-to-business transactions. The mainstay of the workforce, stenographic court reporters, have largely rejected use of Verbit because automatic speech recognition in its current form disproportionately harms minority speakers while we stand for an accurate record no matter who is speaking.

There’s a hint that Verbit may not be in a rush to go public.

This is likely a ruse. There isn’t a real reason to delay going public. If it was a good company with solid financials, an underwriter would jump on it, buy the shares, and sell them to the market. Verbit, despite all its investor money, may not be as healthy or strong as it attempts to portray in the media. This is similar to VIQ Solutions, the digital recording company with the transcription subsidiaries that lost $13 million this year.

Let’s not forget that in July, Verbit was floating the idea of going public in 2022. I laughed at it and gave some predictions. Now the company does seem to be pedaling back some on that front.

And we’re just getting started. We know that Verbit’s technology isn’t very good because it’s previously admitted it takes 8 hours to be ADA compliant. But now that they have millions of dollars, perhaps that will be used to massively expand their programming team and make a massive technological leap that has somehow been undiscovered by IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

NOPE. They’re expanding sales and marketing.

A “plan” for a feature does not constitute a feature. It’s an easy way to generate buzz without doing anything.

This gives us, the court reporters, two nuggets of information. 1. The idea that technology is always improving is illusionary — if a breakthrough technology was almost ready to disrupt us, they’d be putting the finishing touches on that, not hiring people to sell what they’ve already got.

2. My idea to make me the “universal salesman” for stenography is exactly what these businesspeople are doing and we should totally copy it. Count all the times Livne has been in the news or media since 2020. He’s never had anything particularly important to say, but he gets in there because he’s in control of a lot of investor money. At least at some media outlets, it is not ideas or truth that control, it is wealth and power. Special thanks to my donors over the last few days — and a very special $1,000 donor — you have all allowed me to run another advertising campaign, starting in a few hours.

Finally, Verbit gives us an idea of our own collective power by referencing the $4 billion addressable market. We know the median pay for us is somewhere around $61,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If we believe BLS and assume there are 21,000 of us, that’s $1.281 billion. I’ve argued that BLS statistics are inaccurate and it seems more likely there’s about 28,000 of us. That’s $1.7 billion. If we trust Tom Livne that there is a $4 billion market, we control roughly half of it — roughly half the market is going directly to stenographers in the form of income. Verbit, on the other hand, has previously stated its revenue is in the millions. $1.7 billion (stenographers) versus “in the millions” Verbit. Why does Verbit get more attention? Because the money and power is centralized.

But why trust Tom Livne? The market research reports I’ve perused, and particularly a 2021 report by Anything Research, put our market at more like $3 billion.

2021 Premium Report on Court Reporting & Stenotype Services, by Anything Research.

So while our market is likely to grow, it seems well behind previous five-year forecast of $3.157 billion provided by Kentley Insights in 2019 — though we will see where we are in 2024 or 2025.

A $3 billion market where ostensibly 57% goes directly to stenographers. Court reporters, do you see now why everyone is so interested in telling you that your job is defunct? Your existence is holding companies and CEOs back from having a larger slice of the pie — a $1.7 billion slice — and if doing away with you means minority speakers might go to jail on a botched transcript or captioning consumers might be in physical danger, who cares? You should just give up and let it happen.

Alternatively, realize that you are just as smart as the businesspeople and start acting like it. They’re riding off of your ignorance. They’re riding off of your unwillingness to look at the numbers and see what they say. Everything seems so scary and uncertain when others write about these issues. But the issues are not so hard to understand when Christopher Day writes about them. That’s because my goal is your enlightenment. The goal of salespeople is to keep you from questioning the purchase.

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.

Zombie Corporations in Court Reporting (2-minute video)

I’ve come to realize the blog is a good way to document issues and evidence, but a horrible way to explain them. The message gets lost. For example, some people believe that I do not believe there is a shortage. That is false. My argument is that our shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by the companies that stand to gain from our loss. My argument is that consumers are being lied to about the availability of stenographic court reporters. Another part of my argument is that the companies that are most vocal about our shortage are likely zombie companies. What’s that? Give me two minutes of your time and I’ll tell you.

Kentley Insights 2019 report on stenotype services suggested 1 in 4 court reporting companies are unprofitable.

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.