Susie Rushton: Machines we speak to will turn us into idiots

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Time travel, cute robots who behave like pets, jet packs – there are some tropes of sci-fi that never go away. Another Buck Rogers fantasy that endures is talking to your computer. Why automatic speech recognition persists is a mystery to me: it must be one of the most irritating inventions ever foisted on us by science, as anybody who's had to "speak" to a computerised phone banking service knows.

But this winter Apple and Microsoft are determined to push us back to the future. Apple is promoting Siri, its chatty personal assistant application for the iPhone4. The ad shows a smug San Franciscan new-media exec jogging by the Golden Gate Bridge, giving orders to his iPhone as though dictating to Miss Jones. He barks off an inane text message, then commands her to play his music.

Must we now hear text messages being sent? Do we not already listen to too much of other people's mobile conversations? Last week, I had to stop myself from retching in the street after I overheard what turned out to be an off-duty surgeon jauntily describing to a colleague how he would "really have to try to cut hard through the clavicle on that one".

Meanwhile, Siri can also perform internet searches, forecast weather and organise appointments; another ad shows a user asking his phone, "How's my day looking?". Suffice it to say that Siri, beaten-down pre-feminist secretary that she is, does not intone, "Look at your calendar, you lazy arse."

At least Microsoft isn't imposing its own loquacious technology in the public sphere: its push for voice recognition is aimed at Xbox Kinect users. Yes, parents of gamers will have to endure their progeny yelping "Xbox: PLAY DISC. No, PLAY DISC, etc" but at least you'll be able to shut the door on them.

Yet whatever shiny new application it has, I can't help scoffing that speech recognition is duff, and only self-defined "early adopters" will use it. After all, it has been "the future" since the 1950s, when artificial intelligence first began to inspire scientists. Over the decades, they have tried to improve the accuracy of speech recognition and find useful applications – and indeed it has had some success in military environments, for example, and for those with certain disabilities.

But in everyday situations speech recognition sucks. It isn't possible for most of us to give meaningful spoken commands while doing something else with our hands (the only thing I could do with a car while dictating a letter is crash it). The technology still makes errors. And you still look stupid doing it. Most of all, it isn't quicker than a button or touchscreen. Speech recognition gadgets are a fantasy – unfortunately one we'll be hearing a lot more of.

 

Brad's best days are already behind him

Brad Pitt will always have kudos for Seven, Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys and Thelma and Louise, but he hasn't turned in an outstanding acting performance for years. He was fun in Burn After Reading, in which he played a looks-obsesssed himbo (not much of a stretch), and he was similarly agreeable yet vapid in the Oceans franchise. He has six kids and a reputed $150m in the bank – a fortune shared with his gorgeous wife – so when he announces he'll retire in three years' time, you have to ask, why wait?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Traffic Planner

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As the successful candidate you...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa presidential election: If I had a vote, I would back Sepp Blatter

Sean O'Grady
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor