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Background noise, subject matter, formatting, confidentiality—here's what you need to consider when deciding between human transcription and AI Speech Recognition.

When it comes to transcription, you have two choices—human transcription and AI transcription, sometimes called voice recognition or speech recognition. Both have unique benefits and drawbacks, so your choice ultimately depends on your end goal. In this blog post, we will compare the pros and cons of services so that you can make an informed decision about which option is best for you.

When Do You Need Transcription Services?

Transcription services are beneficial for businesses or organizations, but they also have some other surprising uses. Here are some of the most popular reasons people use transcription services:

  • Professional documents: Many professionals from lawyers, to consultants, to financial advisors use transcription to generate professional correspondence and documents they exchange with their clients or colleagues.
  • Academic Research: Transcription is often used in academic research to transcribe interviews so you can analyze them later.
  • Education: K-12 students and adult learners can benefit from transcribed lectures and instructional demonstrations.
  • Documentation: From business meetings and webinars to mediations and negotiations, transcripts help preserve crucial conversations.
  • Improved SEO: Search engines can’t “watch” videos, so transcribing the audio makes it easier for them to index the content and make it more searchable.
  • Equal Access: This is helpful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or for those who speak a different language than the one used in the video.
  • Court proceedings: Court reporters transcribe everything said in court so that there is a written record of the proceedings.
  • Audio Books to Text: This makes it easier for people with visual impairments to read books.
  • Improved Customer Service: Many call centers transcribe phone calls to help train new employees or to keep track of customer complaints.

The History of Speech Recognition Software

After Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it didn’t take long for people to start trying to figure out how to record and transcribe the human voice. By 1897, Thomas Edison received a patent for the Dictaphone—the first machine to record and playback speech.

Finally, in 1952, Bell Laboratories released the Audrey system, which could recognize spoken digits. This was a significant breakthrough in the field of speech recognition and laid the foundations for modern AI transcription software as we know it.

What is AI Transcription and How Does It Work Today?

Today, voice recognition and AI transcription uses advanced artificial intelligence to convert audio or video files into text. The software is designed to mimic the way humans transcribe audio or video files. There are several types of software on the market, but they all work in essentially the same way:

  • First, the software “listens” to the audio or video file and converts it into a digital signal.
  • The software “reads” the digital signal and translates it into text.
  • Finally, the software outputs the text in a format you can read (usually a Word document or PDF).
  • Note: There are two ways that consumers use AI: They may purchase a software and download it locally on their device. Then, when they have something to transcribe they open their voice recognition software and the words appear on the screen. Or alternatively, users might use a Speech Recognition company in which the customer uploads an audio file to a company that maintains ownership of the AI/Speech Recognition software. The company runs the audio file through their platform and returns it to the customer. Sometimes they add a layer of human review, but with varying degrees of proofreading or intervention on mistakes.

Advantages of AI Transcription

There are several advantages to using AI transcription software:

  • AI software can transcribe an hour-long audio or video file in a matter of minutes.
  • The software is relatively inexpensive.
  • The software never gets tired and can transcribe audio or video files around the clock.

Disadvantages of AI Transcription

On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to consider when using AI transcription software:

  • The transcript quality may not be as high as a human transcriber.
  • AI software sometimes has difficulty understanding accents or unfamiliar words, so you may need to edit the transcript after it is generated.
  • The document will not be formatted at all. Typically finished documents are returned as straight text which must be formatted properly before being shared in any professional capacity.
  • AI software relies on algorithms to transcribe audio or video files and may not understand essential contextual information.

How Does Human Transcription Work?

Human transcription is the process of manually converting audio or video files into text. Human transcribers listen to the audio or video file and type out what they hear.

Advantages of Human Transcription

Human transcription is a trustworthy method for several reasons:

  • Humans can understand accents and industry-specific words, which improves the quality of the transcription.
  • The accuracy is impeccable, and you usually don’t need to edit the transcript after it’s generated.
  • Human transcriptionists can typically rewind and re-listen to difficult sections of audio to ensure they capture the text correctly.
  • The document will be formatted appropriately based on the content. Rather than getting straight text back, your finished document will look like a professionally formatted letter or interrogatory (etc) ready to be sent to a colleague.
  • You can ask transcribers to sign NDAs, which protect confidentiality.

Disadvantages of Human Transcription

However, human transcription also has some disadvantages:

  • Transcribing an hour-long audio or video file can take several hours, which may not be feasible if you need the transcript quickly.
  • Human transcribers can make mistakes, although this is rare.

6 Things to Consider Before Choose AI or Human Transcription Services

1. Are you transcribing a single speaker or multi-speaker conversation?

An AI transcription software may be a good option if you’re transcribing a one-on-one conversation. However, human transcription will capture the conversation more precisely if the recording includes a group with several speakers. Some speech recognition programs can capture multi speaker recordings effectively, but if the speakers interrupt, talk over one another, or mumble, it can quickly become problematic.

2. Does the recording include bi-lingual conversations or heavy accents?

If the recording includes bi-lingual conversations, human transcription will likely be more accurate. AI software may have difficulty understanding accents and processing multiple languages, so you may need to edit the transcript after it is generated.

3. How quickly do you need the transcript?

AI transcription and voice recognition software is a good option if you need a transcript quickly and do not need any type of formatting. However, human transcription is worth the extra time if accuracy is essential. AI software relies on algorithms to transcribe audio or video files and may not understand necessary contextual information or code-switching. When you get back a speech recognition produced document, it is just unformatted text. If that document is being sent to, or shared with another party, you’re going to want to leave yourself plenty of time to proof and reformat the final document. A document produced by a human transcriptionist will come back formatted and ready to send.

4. Is the finished product being shared with a client or colleague?

Voice recognition produced documents typically just come back as straight text. Basic punctuation and capitalization are included, so it works well for notes, or even some emails, but if your finished document is something where professionalism is important, it is worth having a trained, human transcriptionist. Otherwise, you’re going to spend as much time reformatting your text has you did dictating if you use voice recognition- eliminating any efficiency gains.

5. How much background noise is in the recording?

Consider whether the recording occurred on a loud, busy street or if there are voices unrelated to the conversation in the background. If the recording is crystal clear, speech recognition/ AI transcription may get the job done to your satisfaction.

6. Are confidentiality and data security a priority?

Since AI software relies on algorithms to transcribe files, your data could be stored on a server outside of your control. On the other hand, human transcribers do not store confidential data and will only have access to it while working on your transcript.

When To Choose Human Transcription

Some situations require the expertise of a professional rather than an AI transcription software. Human transcription is best if you’re looking for the most accurate transcript possible. This is particularly true if:

  • You need a professional polished document ready to send out.
  • You will use the transcription in a legal or medical setting where confidentiality and accuracy are critical.
  • You’re transcribing terminology that isn’t commonly spoken.
  • You will use transcribed text to teach or train others who rely on the precision of language.
  • You’re producing text that you intend to publish or use in a professional setting.
  • You’re working with highly sensitive information and wish to keep the transcription confidential.

AI vs. Human Transcription: FAQs

What is the difference in cost?

While some people believe that AI transcription services are more affordable, the reality is that human transcription services are extremely price-efficient. Some human transcription services charge as little as 1.5 cents per word. Speech recognition companies that use a blend of AI and human review are pretty comparable in cost to an all-human transcription service, in fact sometimes human transcriptionists are cheaper, especially if you speak slowly or take pauses. The main difference is that the human-produced transcription will come back with proper formatting rules followed, whereas the voice recognition/human blend will only be straight text.

What determines the price of transcription services?

The price of human transcription varies depending on the length of the audio or video file, the number of speakers, and the turnaround time. Some services charge by the word, while others charge by the minute. See a pricing breakdown in our Rev vs. Transcribe Me vs. SpeakWrite comparison guide!

How long does it take to transcribe an hour-long recording?

It usually takes about four hours to transcribe an hour-long recording, but some human transcription services have a turnaround time of three hours or less.

Can I use AI transcription/ speech recognition for legal purposes?

Human transcription is generally more accurate, so it’s a best practice to use human transcribers in legal situations. AI software may not understand accents or heavy dialects, leading to miscommunications. There may also be confidentiality concerns in using speech recognition companies as seen in this article.

How good is voice recognition/ AI transcription?

If the recording is clear and there is minimal background noise, you may not need a human transcriber—especially if you’re using transcription for personal purposes or informal documentation. However, if the recording is of poor quality, multiple speakers overlap, or the speakers have accents, human transcription will likely be more accurate.

Can I use AI transcription for medical purposes?

Medical terminology can be difficult for AI software to understand, and even minor errors could have serious consequences. You will likely need to find a software or service that caters specifically to medical language, which can change the price point significantly.

Which automatic transcription service is the most accurate?

In general, human transcription is more accurate than AI transcription. However, the accuracy of any transcription depends on factors like the quality of the recording and the number of speakers. Voice recognition services which offer a level of human review can vary widely in terms of how detailed their review and intervention is.

Does AI transcription work for all languages?

No, AI transcription software works best with widely spoken English, Spanish, and German languages but doesn’t work for less common or obscure languages.

The Bottom Line

AI transcription services are growing rapidly, but they’re not suitable for every situation. If you need a transcript quickly for personal use and cost is a concern, AI software may be the right choice. However, human professionals are likely your best bet if accuracy is paramount. There’s simply no substitute for the human brain—at least not yet.

SpeakWrite is a 100% human transcription service that can take care of all your transcription needs in a timely, accurate, and affordable manner. You can rest assured that we’ll complete your transcription quickly and accurately—and our competitive pricing makes us an affordable option for any budget. Learn more about our services today.