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February 18, 2014

I'm Talking a Lot More to Screens

OK GoogleScreenshot from Techcrunch.

I TALK TO my phone at least once a day now, trying to find things faster. And I show creative multimedia students what I'm doing because I'm convinced you need to be discoverable by people who try to describe you in 10-second chunks of speech.

I use a Microsoft Windows Phone as my main device. It understands me and my American accent better than my Scottish friends with their Apple iPhones. I talk to Google search as often as I tap in a search query on screen. And I use our Nissan's voice services several times a week when sending or receiving text messages while underway. Voice is a future-proof user interface.

I'll root my Android phone so it might start to understand the command “Ok Google” when I say it. Android KitKat on the Nexus 5 is always listening for those command words.

I grew up with a starship computer that understood the captain's voice. Today, I listen to command voices on social networks (i.e., Phil Sorell and Paul Hopkins) as they bring me content in the form of audio logs. They sound like they know what they're talking about and I wonder if they've wrapped themselves in an ecosystem where voice recognition and natural language processing will serve their needs in this decade.

Our six year old daughter is growing up without the hesitation her grandparents have about asking a phone for help. At the moment, Siri doesn't understand Mia more than 20% of the time but that doesn't stop the young voice from trying to educate Siri. For Mia, a phone is a personal assistant. As such, that handheld personal assistant needs a little help educating itself how to communicate and Mia (6) has proven to be a patient educator.

I've seen Google’s voice commands work elegantly on my handset and through my Chrome browser. It can ring people as you call out their names. Knowing that, I've changed the names of some of my contacts, adjusting to small errors of recognition that have occurred while using Google Voice. I can ask my browser to open web pages and my phone delivers highly accurate local information when I verbalise requests for nearby restaurants or cinema schedules. I use the Nokia Lumia's voice processing to set calendar items, to convert measurements, and to compose short emails.

These are early days but promising ones for voice-activated convenience. We are well past the cumbersome electronic speech patterns of first generation voice-activated systems. To me, voice commands with my phone feel as comfortable as peering into my pinhole camera during a Skype video call or using Facetime to call mom in her comfy chair five time zones away.

I agree with Frederic Lardinois (aka @fredericl). "Maybe the computer from 'Her' is indeed the future of user interfaces and the natural language processing and all of the other tech that drives Google’s voice commands and search today will surely form the kernel of the artificial intelligence systems the company will one day build".

I would enjoy a world where my unique sound waves will protect my identity, perhaps being used telematically to start my car after confirming my identity. I want to live in a world where my personal sound replacements a myriad of password or acts more effectively than the "verified by Visa" number sequences I use today.

Based on what I've seen about how my verbal words can be recognised by today's technology, I want to watch merchants offering two-step audible verification. That sounds like a safer place to be.

I like the sound of that world.

[Bernie Goldbach talks creative multimedia in the Limerick School of Art & Design.]


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