As an Ai-Live captioner, I live life on the edge. My colleagues will attest to me being a bit of a rebel. Not long ago I called a client's co-worker a “pervy man” while captioning live for a work meeting.

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Okay, okay, maybe this wasn’t intentional. I couldn’t tell you if this proclamation was even true or false! Rather than casting severe judgement upon someone I had never met before, this error was a misrecognition caused both by the voice technology and my own lack of clarity when speaking.

Live captions are created by respeaking everything I hear into speech recognition software, which transforms this into text. Sometimes, the speech recognition software decides to… misbehave a little, and I have to be hawkish and remove any major errors as quickly as possible. In the case of the “pervy man” incident, I wasn’t quite fast enough. Luckily, the client thought this was funny and decided to share it with his colleagues. Crisis avoided!

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While most errors tend to be minor, astounding ones such as these can occur. I've personally heard some horror stories about the captions that have come out on live TV! Think of any word and then think of the most sordid rhyme for it – that’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.

For most people viewing TV captions, the language can appear humourless. Captions are essentially blocks of text which appear on a screen. Secondly, ask someone about captions and they often assume it's done by a machine. People I’ve spoken to have found it shocking that a human being is even involved in the process.

But captioning really is a human experience. It tests a captioner’s abilities to deal with real-time pressure and overcoming the apprehensiveness of encountering words you've never heard before. It’s definitely a psychological experience.

More than that, there is a relationship that develops between captioner and client. We often exchange chat messages during an Ai-Live session. Clients will even help reduce our mistakes (and shame) by providing tricky jargon before a session, or sending a chat message with the correct spelling during the session. Thank you for having my back!

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These relationships that develop mean that rather than see yourself as some machine droning out each word, you really begin to value every single word you speak while respeaking. Someone is relying on your attentiveness and you begin to really appreciate the words in spoken dialogue that you may miss during everyday life when you are not paying as much attention.

In doing so, you often begin to appreciate the subject matter more, putting you in sync with the client. You are also taken into new industries, and so captioning takes you into new worlds. From our London Bridge office, I'm able to stand in the shoes of another person.

Rather than being a very mechanical experience where a client just uses a service, live captioning is often a very human experience. Having the opportunity to connect with people of different backgrounds remains one of the most enjoyable aspects of the role. Sure, you might accidentally call someone a “pervy man”, but that usually only adds to its charm.

Written by Robert Potter, Captioner


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