Tech

Microsoft Word online can now transcribe audio for you

The feature could make life a lot easier for students and journalists, among others.

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Microsoft has introduced an audio transcription tool in its browser version of Word. The feature could be useful for students and journalists who want to record a discussion and refer back to it later.

Leave note-taking behind — The feature is pretty straightforward. You have a choice of either uploading pre-recorded audio tracks or recording straight into Word. Once you're finished, Word will quickly transcribe your audio and return a transcript that you can annotate, insert into your document, or just look at for reference as you work. Microsoft says its software can detect different speakers and label them appropriately so you can easily follow the transcript.

Transcription is useful if you're someone who's bad at notetaking because you can instead jot down key information in the moment. That way you don't have to worry about writing quickly enough to keep up with a fast speaker.

By introducing transcriptions, Microsoft hopes to make Word into a sort of centralized hub where you keep all the notes and documents you need to get work done. If the company can offer every tool you might need directly within Word, you'll be less inclined to leave its little walled garden and explore alternative apps. Of course, Microsoft also needs to keep up with Google's free suite of productivity apps.

Leaps and bounds — Transcription services have been known to be pretty bad and return lots of garbled, hard to follow transcripts. Even when they're 95 percent accurate, you still have to go through and clean up a lot of text if you intend to publish it somewhere or share it with others. But transcription technology has improved greatly in recent years thanks to machine learning algorithms that can be trained on millions of samples of audio. And tech companies have plenty of material for interpreting voices thanks to assistants like Alexa and Microsoft's own Cortana.

It's too bad that Microsoft isn't yet offering transcription on mobile, where it makes the most sense for conducting field interviews. The company says that's coming in the future but didn't offer a timeline.

In the meantime, Google offers its own transcription app on Android that's been lauded for its accuracy and speed. Its Pixel Buds 2 headphones can even transcribe audio from the microphones in real-time. Dedicated transcription services like Otter.ai work pretty well, too, and offer more comprehensive feature sets than what's available in Word.