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Live captioning is the creation of subtitles and closed captioning of live events such as sports matches or live interviews for the hard of hearing or for broadcast in areas where sound is not audible, such as bars or outdoor venues. The process makes use of a variety of techniques including real-time captioning (RTC), real-time stenography, open captioning, Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART), re-speaking, STTR (Speech-to-Text Reporting), electronic note-taking, and voice captioning. Live captioning techniques can also be used outside of broadcasting, for example for recording court proceedings or university lectures.

Because of obvious technical constraints, live-captioning had long belonged to the world of science fiction. Some examples include the ship’s computers in Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it is the voice of humans that is translated into commands that the machines are able to interpret. This is slightly different from live captioning as the end result is not text, but the idea of simultaneous transcription from voice is similar. More recently, in his novel The Hydrogen Sonata, author Iain M. Banks imagines beings equipped to interpret and translate any spoken language in real-time. In this example, voice is truly translated to text, as these futuristic beings ‘read’ the incoming information on an internal screen similar to Google Glass. Also, in the recent film Her, Spike Jonze shows us a young professional using voice-to-text software to record birthday card greetings and other correspondence in his daily work life. The contemporary setting of the film takes voice-to-text live captioning out of the realm of science fiction and into that of reality.

In fact, voice to text software has been used by professional stenographers in the UK for over 30 years. The most widely used technique is re-speaking, in which professionals can record up to 250 wpm. The process involves repeating what is heard into a tightly sealed mouth-piece which reduces background noise, and a computer software program which captures the speech and converts it into text. Although many people can master the voice-to-text technique put forward in Her and available on most smart-phones and Google, professional re-speaking requires significant professional training as speed AND accuracy are of the essence. Voice-to-text no longer belongs to the world of science-fiction, but to professional elitism!