Voice control of computers has been a dream since before Scotty tried to chat up an Apple Mac in that Star Trek film and now processing power is enabling it to be a reality even though it is still comparatively basic at the moment; even Apple’s Siri is a human-friendly front end of what is effectively a search engine. Both Siri and Android’s voice actions allow commands to be given to the devices and although they are pretty good at recognising what you ask them to do it’s still not an artificial intelligence.
Nuance, the company that created the technology behind Siri, are working on voice recognition systems that don’t need to be told when to listen (by a tap or a voice command like “Hi Siri”, “Xbox listen” or “Computer?”). These systems are always listening, just waiting for you to say something that it might be able to do something about; just mumble “I wonder what the weather’s going to be like at the weekend” and your phone will instantly have the weather news for you like the world’s fastest personal assistant, never having to be asked, always ready with the answer. The idea has great potential in streamlining device use, or customizing the information shown on services like Google Now.
But how annoying could it become if you’re having a normal conversation or even talking to yourself and your phone lights up “sorry, I didn’t catch that, do you want me to find something for you?” to which you instinctively say “no, I wasn’t talking to you.” Even more annoying is when your phone replies “oh, well if you’re going to be like that.” and sulks for two days.
No doubt the software will eventually have ways of detecting whether there is more than one voice being heard so it can ignore questions that aren’t directed at it and just sit there making notes about what you and your friend, relative, partner or cat are talking about in case it can find something relevant should it be called upon but there could still be occasions when it may go off and search for something that it shouldn’t perhaps. Will it apologise for getting you into an embarrassing situation based on something it heard on a tv show?
Of course this will have the conspiracy theorists worried that it’s sending everything you say to the government but that’s inevitable, they probably also think the government’s reading their emails too. Now where’s my phone hiding?