Handwriting Recognition Meets Machine Learning


There are places in the tech space where we cease to stare in amazement about what the tech can do. Instead we whine that the tech can't do more.

Gary Baum
Gary Baum

Take the case of handwriting recognition, whether it's what we scribble notes onto a tablet or when we scan handwritten text into a PC. We wish that it was smarter, that it recognized more characters and that the text was searchable and shareable.

To be honest, I shouldn't say "we". It turns out that I have zero confidence that any machine -- even all the power of the CIA and NSA computers combined -- could accurately decipher my own handwriting. In fact, my chicken-scratch cursive is a family joke. So, I'm left using the generic "we" in this case.

What you may not have noticed is the progress that handwriting recognition in our everyday technology has made. It has gained intelligence in terms of accuracy, breadth of languages, searchability, and even logic in work such as flow charts.

Behind that improvement is machine learning, a concept that is evolving in how it supports not only handwriting recognition, but applications such as facial recognition and language translation. That machine learning isn't so much about writing code -- yes, you need code -- but about the actual learning process. Basically, developers forcefeed massive numbers of examples into neural network based systems, and those systems start to detect patterns.

Consider a high school English class where your weekend assignment is to read the complete works of Shakespeare and his late 16th century cronies so you understand their messages by Monday morning.

That's how we approach machine learning today.

On Thursday of this week, we will be looking at the parallel evolution of machine learning and handwriting recognition. Gary Baum, vice president of marketing for handwriting recognition software provider MyScript joins All Analytics Radio at 2 pm EDT.

MyScripts software tools allow users to take, edit, and convert handwritten text in real time, and to more intuitively create, interact with, and share content in digital form.

Maybe it's ironic that we're making progress in handwriting recognition at a time when school systems are considering eliminating cursive education.

However, I suspect handwriting -- whether using paper and pen or screen and stylus -- will be with us for a long time. Register now for Thursday's streaming audio interview, How Machine Learning Takes Handwriting Recognition to New Levels, and join us Thursday, August 25, at 2:00 p.m. EDT.

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: Does it work?
  • 9/3/2016 11:03:57 AM
NO RATINGS

@Maryam annnnd there is the added benefit of usage analytics with digital catalogs! They can more easily track the number of opens compared with paper versions.

Re: High value of handwriting
  • 9/1/2016 12:56:56 PM
NO RATINGS

> I'm only guessing but I'm betting that ATMs are more likely to miscount cash than checks.

Indeed, we've gotten too the point where the physical/mechanical errors are harderr to avoid than the fancier tech errors like handwriting recognition/reading checks.  You even see it in the news once in a while.  That's pretty marvelous to me.

Re: Does it work?
  • 8/31/2016 11:20:32 PM
NO RATINGS

@tinym And I don't mind that, but the problem is that the writing experience in PDAs was never really as good as that of paper organizers. If the writing experience is bad anyway, I'd rather use my phone. BUT if it's as much a pleasure to write on as Kindles are great for reading, then I'm all for a separate PDA. I actually use my Note almost in that way—I have a separate phone for calling and texting, and I do my work on the Note. The problem is, the writing drowns in other, more complex types of work: photo and video editing, social media, etc. I'd like a clear mind when I need to write with focus and it doesn't help when the rest of my mess is in there.

Re: Does it work?
  • 8/31/2016 11:11:10 PM
NO RATINGS

Pottery Barn and some other retailers are now featuring them as an option rather that filling our mailboxes and recycling bins we can view their catalog online. It will save time and money for everyone long term.

Re: Does it work?
  • 8/31/2016 11:02:04 PM
NO RATINGS

@Maryam I haven't used digital catalogs like that. I can imagine they help prevent clutter :)

Re: Does it work?
  • 8/31/2016 10:43:13 PM
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Michelle what do you think of the new catalogs you can plop through on your ereader where the pictures and text are identical to the catalog experience. I really like them and they reduce clutter in house!

Re: Does it work?
  • 8/31/2016 9:23:43 PM
NO RATINGS

@Joe I really like to go through catalogs like that just to read the copy. The photography is always really nice too. I wonder if they A/B test catalog versions across airlines...

Re: Does it work?
  • 8/31/2016 9:22:05 PM
NO RATINGS

@MN I'm with you on the processing speed for handwriting devices. If you go with a dedicated pen pad device you almost go back to the days of a separate phone and PDA. 

Re: Does it work?
  • 8/31/2016 2:45:18 PM
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@Michelle: I was genuinely tempted on one of my recent Transatlantics...but ultimately decided I'd rather keep the money in my pocket.  ;)

In search of the Kindle of notebooks
  • 8/31/2016 6:29:27 AM
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I still prefer writing by hand when the topic I'm dealing with requires deep thinking. I got a Galaxy Note and while the pen works well, I'd appreciate a single-purpose device, for the same reason I have a Kindle: focus. I'd also prefer something like an e-ink display and a very long battery life. I just found this a few days ago: https://www.amazon.com/SHARP-Electronic-Memo-WG-S20-White/dp/B00GGCB3AC. The only downside is that the UI is in Japanese, but reviewers have said it's easy to figure out. I do hope they come up with international versions soon because there's demand for it all over the world.

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