CART v Autocraption, A Strategic Overview For Captioners

With the news that Verbit has bought VITAC, there was some concern on steno social media. For a quick history on Verbit, it’s a company that claimed 99 percent accuracy in its series A funding. In its series B funding it was admitted that their technology would not replace the human. Succinctly, Verbit is a transcription company where its transcribers are assisted by machine learning voice recognition. Of course, this all has the side effect of demoralizing stenographers who sometimes think “wow, the technology really can do my job” because nobody has the time to be a walking encyclopedia.

But this idea that Verbit, a company started in 2016, figured out some super secret knowledge is not realistic. To put voice recognition into perspective, it’s estimated to be a market worth many billions of dollars. Microsoft is seeking to buy Nuance, the maker of Dragon, for about $20 billion. Microsoft has reportedly posted revenue over $40 billion and profit of over $15 billion. Verbit, by comparison, has raised “over $100 million” in investor money. It reports revenue in the millions and positive cash flow. Another company that reports revenue in the millions and positive cash flow? VIQ Solutions, parent of Net Transcripts. As described in a previous post, VIQ Solutions has reported millions in revenue and a positive cash flow since 2016. What’s missing? The income. Since 2016, the company hasn’t been profitable.

I might actually buy some stock, just in case.

Obviously, things can turn around, companies can go long periods of time without making a profit, bounce back, and be profitable. Companies can also go bankrupt and dissolve a la Circuit City or be restructured like JCPenney. The point is not to disparage companies on their financials, but to give stenographic captioners real perspective on the information they’re reading. So, when you see this blurb here, what comes to mind?

Critical Thinking 101

Hint. What’s not being mentioned? Profit. While this is not conclusive, the lack of any mention of profit tells me the cash flow and revenue is fine, but there are no big profits as of yet. Cash flow can come from many things, including investors, asset sales, and borrowing money. Most of us probably make in the ballpark of $50,000 to $100,000. Reading that a company raised $60 million, ostensibly to cut in on your job, can be pretty disheartening. Not so once you see that they’re a tiny fraction of the overall picture and that players far bigger than them have not taken your job despite working on the technology for decades.

Moreover, we have a consumer protection crisis on our hands. At least one study in 2020 showed that automatic speech recognition can be 25 to 80 percent accurate depending on who’s speaking. There are many caption advocates out there, such as Meryl Evans, trying to raise awareness on the importance of caption quality. The messaging is very clear: automatic captions are crap (autocraptions), they are often worse than having no captions, and a single wrong word can cause great confusion for someone relying on the captions. Just go see what people on Twitter are saying about #autocraptions. “#NoMoreCraptions. Thank you content creators that do not rely on them!”

Caring about captioning for people who need it makes your brand look good?
I wonder if a brand that looks good makes more money than one that doesn’t…

This isn’t something I’m making up. Anybody in any kind of captioning or transcription business agrees a human is required. Just check out Cielo24’s captioning guide and accuracy table.

Well, this is a little silly. Nobody advertises 60 percent accuracy. It just happens. Ask my boss.

If someone’s talking about an accuracy level of 95 percent or better, they’re talking about human-verified captions. If you, captioner, were not worried about Rev taking away your job with its alleged 50,000 transcribers, then you should not throw in the towel because of Verbit and its alleged 30,000 transcribers. We do not know how much of that is overlap. We do not know how much of that is “this transcriber transcribed for us once and is therefore part of our ‘team.'” We do not know how well transcription skills will fit into the fix-garbage-AI-transcription model. The low pay and mistreatment that comes with “working for” these types of companies is going to drive people away. Think of all the experiences you’ve had to get you to your skill level today. Would you have gotten there with lower compensation, or would you have simply moved on to something easier?

Verbit’s doing exceptionally well in its presentation. It makes claims that would cost quite a bit of time and/or money to disprove, and the results of any such investigation would be questioned by whoever it did not favor. It’s a very old game of making claims faster than they can be disproven and watching the fact checkers give you more press as they attempt to parse what’s true, partially true, and totally false. This doesn’t happen just in the captioning arena, it happens in legal reporting too.

$0/page. Remember what I said about no profit?
It doesn’t matter if they’re never profitable. It only matters that they can keep attracting investor money.

This seems like a terrifying list of capabilities. But, again, this is an old game. Watch how easy it is.

It took me 15 seconds to say six lies, one partial truth, and one actual truth. Many of you have known me for years. What was what? How long will it take you to figure out what was what? How long would it take you to prove to another person what’s true and what’s false? This is, in part, why it is easier for falsehoods to spread than the truth. This is why in court and in science, the person making a claim has to prove their claim. We have no such luxury in the business world. As an example, many years ago in the gaming industry Peter Molyneux got up on stage and demo’d Milo. He said it was real tech. Here was this dynamically interactive virtual boy who’d be able to understand gamers and their actions. We watched it with our own eyes. It was so cool. It was BS. It was very likely scripted. There was no such technology and there is no such technology today, over eleven years later. Do you think Peter, Microsoft, or anybody got in trouble for that? Nope. In fact, years later, he claimed “it was real, honest.”

Here’s the point: Legal reporters and captioners are going to be facing off with these claims for an indeterminate amount of time. These folks are going to be marketing to your clients hard. And I just showed you via the gaming industry that there are zero consequences for lying and that anything that is lied about can just be brushed up with another lie. There will be, more or less, two choices for every single one of you.

  1. Compete / Advocate. Start companies. Ally with deaf advocates.
  2. Watch it happen.

I have basically dedicated Stenonymous to providing facts, figures, and ways that stenographers can come out of the “sky is falling” mindset. But I’m one guy. I’m an official in New York. Science says there’s a good chance what we expect to happen will happen and that’s why I fight like hell to get all of you to expect us to win. That’s also why these companies repeat year after year that they’re going to automate away the jobs even when there’s zero merit or demand for an idea. You now see that companies can operate without making any profit, companies can lie, much bigger companies haven’t muscled in on your job, and that the giant Microsoft presumably looked at Verbit, looked at Nuance, and chose Nuance.

I’m not a neo-luddite. If the technology is that good, let it be that good. Let my job vanish. Fire me tomorrow. But facts are facts, and the fact is that tech sellers take the excellent work of brilliant programmers and say the tech is ready for prime time way before it is. They never bother to mention the drawbacks. Self-driving cars and trucks are on the way, don’t worry about whether it kills someone. Robots can do all these wonderful things, forget that injuries are up where they’re in heaviest use. Solar Roadways were going to solve the world’s energy problems but couldn’t generate any energy or be driven on. In our field, lives and important stakeholders are in danger. What happens when there’s a hurricane on the way and the AI captioning tells deaf people to drive towards danger?

Again, two choices, and I’m hoping stenographic captioners don’t watch it happen.

Veritext Update, March 2019

Introduction & History.

First and foremost: This post is going to get into past history and then go into more recent history. In the more recent history, in order to prove that what we’re saying is true, there are screen shots of a person’s LinkedIn social media. We’re free to discuss that and we’re free to say how we feel, but any reader that comes here should be aware that harassment, bullying, menacing, stalking, and defamation are all amoral and illegal. Those things may all open you up to criminal and civil action. If you use our steno news as a gateway for antisocial behavior, do not be surprised if you get police at your door.

Now onto history. Veritext was a leader in working to bolster stenography. A quick Google search will show you that assuming all the media out there to be true or partially true, they are a partner to NCRA and do or did, on some level, and sometimes on an astounding level, support the stenographic methodology for taking the record. It is hard to tell if what follows is a case of Yes, Prime Minister’s advice on backstabbing or a case of the principle of hedging. Veritext proceeded to buy out a lot of stenographic or court reporting companies, including Diamond Reporting here in New York. Next, we caught wind that Veritext was advertising to attorneys that they should change their deposition notices to add language of “stenographic or other means”, presumably so that Veritext could choose to send digital reporters to jobs.

This all ended up culminating in a post where we mirrored SoCalReporter’s ideas and said: We need to stop beating each other up about where we work and start talking solutions. Guess what happened? People started coming up with solutions, and content, and even going so far as to create watchdog groups. We have said this before, but we are seeing a memetic shift. The reporting zeitgeist of silence is over. There are hundreds of voices blogging, talking, and working together to come up with new ideas.

Today & Tomorrow.

So that brings us to the end of February 2019. A woman named Gina Hardin, purportedly a VP of Sales at Veritext, wrote or posted an article about digital reporting being the changing landscape of reporting. There was a great deal of chatter about this, culminating in the post being taken down the night it was posted, and an immediate declaration from Veritext that the post was posted by a former employee and that they had nothing to do with it, honest. This doesn’t pass the colloquial “sniff test” or SMELL test for being true. Why would a former employee try to drum up business for a past employer? In this country, with so few rights for workers, what employee would ever go out on a limb and post something like that without their employer’s explicit permission? Unless you work for the government or have a contract saying otherwise, you can be fired for any reason or no reason, even a made up reason, just not an illegal reason, of which there are very few. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. And if she’s a former employee, apparently nobody told her, because as of March 2, 2019, she was still listed as working at Veritext, but under the name Gina H. It’s all but undeniable that Veritext is pushing digital, including hiring via their website.

Now, here’s the deal: Some people went online and talked about the typos in the article, or even had personal attacks. It’s not about her. As best we can tell, she’s an employee doing a job, and probably doing it damn well. We make a thousand typos a day unless we’re Super Stenographer. Stenographers, and the entrepreneurs among us, should really be looking at teaming up with salespeople like that who’re dedicated to their job and willing to put themselves out there. Though we have not yet gotten a chance to interview Eve Barrett of Expedite Legal, one of the things she’s alluded to online is there’s an amazing power in human-to-human marketing because of this digital, faceless world. Who is going to be better at human-to-human marketing than someone who is willing to attach their face to the product and pitch? We wouldn’t be surprised if there are stenographic companies looking to poach Gina H. or salespeople like her right now! There’s huge money in this field. Nearly every big agency has a satellite office in every borough of New York City and a cadre of dedicated employees — in other words, there is money to be made in this field, and we shouldn’t be afraid to hire talent when it means a bigger return. Success is often a matter of intelligent delegation. As stenographers, we often let our penchant for perfectionism stand in the way of hiring help and building our brand, perhaps to a fault.

But where does that leave us? Well, we need to recognize that Veritext is apparently willing to lie. Freelancers need to recognize that group boycotts by competitors may fall under antitrust violations. Reporters everywhere need to start acknowledging that the best way to beat ’em might be to just start grabbing clients. It’s time for us to get serious about funding our associations and demanding marketing and entrepreneurial courses. These companies all exist because they got clients off of somebody else. Individually, they may seem bigger or stronger than us because they can outspend us one-on-one, but there’s an inherent power in the fact that if thousands of reporters were to compete directly with them and start poaching clients — which is perfectly legal unless you signed a contract saying you wouldn’t do that or stole a trade secret — they’d be SOL.

For the most ambitious, start looking at fundraising. Start considering all the ways companies come into existence. You very well could be the next nationwide conglomerate. As a matter of fact, if you’re in Illinois, New York, California, or Texas, you are in one of the largest court reporting states in the country, and you have a real shot at seizing the market. Companies rise and fall — but your career is in your hands.

We look forward to the day Veritext sees it’s on the losing side and starts throwing its weight behind stenography again. We look forward to dutifully reporting that right here on this blog. But until that day comes, we encourage fierce competition in this market. Don’t be complacent. Maybe someday we’ll get SLAPP’d for standing up for our profession, but we’re happy to take the heat so that you don’t have to. Be involved. Encourage others to get involved and start building their brand. Know that you are making a difference in how the market and our day-to-day jobs develop.