Dragon Dictation

Is Siri riding a Dragon?

Goldman Sachs and the $580 Million Black Hole

This is an amazing piece of history by Loren Feldman at the New York Times and it’s not just about Goldman Sachs, it’s also about Dragon Systems (founded and run by Janet and Jim Baker), the inventors of Dragon Naturally Speaking, one of the first continuous speech to text dictation systems on any computer.

Goldman was hired ($5 million) to broker the sale of Dragon which eventually got sold in 1999 for stock only to a Belgian company, Lernout & Hauspie (L&H).

L&H collapsed soon after the sale and the Bakers were left with nothing, they even lost the technology they invented.

The lawsuit claims that Goldman didn’t do due diligence and had a troubled past with L&H that should have made them wary of a sale.

No doubt Goldman should be sued although it’s easy to pile on because of all the other bad things that have come to light about Goldman in the past few years. The problem is, the Bakers agreed to the stock only deal and could have walked away from it. It will no doubt be argued that Goldman didn’t do its job and that’s true, but the Bakers had final say on any deal and they took a bad one (that Goldman misrepresented to them).

As someone who’s been extremely interested in both synthetic speech and speech to text technology for over twenty years, I’ve followed Dragon closely and I was aware that the Dragon sale had been problematic as this case has been around for a while.

Dragon Dictate was never built for the Mac (it does exist as a free app for iOS: Dragon Dictation) and the various Macintosh equivalents were never as good but even if it had been built I doubt I would have embraced it; it required hours of training and was a clunky system. Now that Apple has put both dictation and control (commands) into the iPhone and iPad and no doubt, eventually the Macintosh I can say that I love it and use it all the time. It’s a beautiful implementation of this technology that requires no training (except us learning how to deal with Siri) and it works extremely well.

This paragraph from the end of the article should be interesting to any Apple follower:

Dragon Systems, the Bakers’ “third child,” was put up for sale at a bankruptcy auction. Visteon acquired some of Dragon’s technology. ScanSoft bought the bulk of it and went on to become a $7 billion giant, with a licensing deal with Apple. (The Bakers believe that some of their technology made its way into Siri.) ScanSoft later acquired — and assumed the name of — Nuance, another voice technology company.

It will be interesting to see if the trial, set for November 6th in Boston digs through the code in Siri and tries, for whatever reason, to show a genealogical relationship between Dragon and Apple.