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Tech Matters: Artificial intelligence streamlines transcription tasks

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jun 7, 2023

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Leslie Meredith

Up until now, transcribing recorded material has ranged from being an onerous process to one that at least takes several steps. If you’ve recorded a lecture, are responsible for taking meeting minutes or need to capture any other voice-to-text material, you know this process can take some time. But this is where artificial intelligence can be a useful resource.

While there are several competing products on the market, my senior reporter, Simon West, who leads our conference coverage, recommends Otter.ai. “It’s simple and easy to set up,” West said. “Best of all, it’s free.” Otter.ai has allowed him to automate a once time-consuming task and move on to the important stuff: writing the stories, cutting the time it takes to produce and post an article in half.

This is exactly the type of use case for AI that makes sense. Instead of worrying about AI tools replacing you at work, think about how you can use AI-powered tools to automate routine tasks and free your time to focus on projects that take original thought and analysis.

Otter’s AI meeting assistant called OtterPilot records and transcribes in real-time and identifies each speaker. You can use it with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet where it will automatically capture slides and generate meeting summaries. But keep in mind that all three companies have already announced plans to roll out their own meetings assistants, so if you’re looking for a meetings product, you’re better off waiting.

Otter.ai will be most useful to anyone who needs transcription outside of a virtual meeting platform. It is easy to sign up using your Google, Microsoft or Apple account or with a valid email address. If you choose to sign up by email, you’ll need to provide some basic personal details and finish the email verification process. Once you receive your welcome email, you can log in to the app with your email address and password.

The free plan includes 300 transcription minutes each month with a maximum of 30 minutes per session. You can also import three audio or video files over the life of your plan. Files are searchable by keyword. Otter.ai is available in a web version as well as apps for iPhone and Android.

Moving up a tier to Pro gives you more transcription and file upload time. For $8.33 a month, if you pay for the year in advance, or $16.99 if you pay by the month, you receive 1,200 monthly transcription minutes and a 90-minute cap per conversation. You can import and transcribe 10 audio or video files per month, but this is counted as part of your monthly allotment. New to this level is the ability to have OtterPilot “attend” two meetings at the same time, whether you’re on the calls or not. Pro also offers advanced search so you can search by speaker, date range and more.

Next is the Business tier at $20 per month per team member paid annually or $30 each by the month, which adds the ability to share to all team members. Of course, the quantity of transcription and files increases to a number best suited to small teams. Here, your team is allocated 6,000 monthly transcription minutes with up to four hours per conversation. You can import and transcribe unlimited audio or video files.

Otter.ai can get expensive. The free plan is designed as a trial. While the 300 minutes may work for those that have just a few sessions a month to cover, the 30-minute length restriction is unlikely to be sufficient. However, if you find you like the product, $8.33 a month is a reasonable fee.

If you need transcription only occasionally, Microsoft Word — online, not the desktop version — will do the trick. Using Microsoft Edge or Chrome browser, open a new document in Word. Click on “Home” and then look for the microphone icon and click “Transcribe” in the dropdown menu. You’ll see the upload file button. It will accept .mp3, mp4, .mp4a and .wav files. Navigate to your file and upload it. Microsoft will transcribe it. Transcription may take a while depending on your internet speed — up to about the length of the audio file. Keep the “Transcribe” pane open while the transcription is running, but you can switch browser tabs or use other applications and come back later.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.


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