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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform