With the courier work I’ve been doing for the past few days, I’ve been relying heavily on Google Maps for navigation around the area, and I’ve been discovering the benefits of voice controls — it’s much easier to simply say “take me to…” and Google work it out for you than to type in a postcode using Android’s cumbersome and clumsy keyboard.
I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the accuracy of the voice recognition, since it even recognises non-standard words such as street names without too much difficulty, and it uses your location to make an educated guess at which one of the many Alder Roads in the world you might have actually wanted to go to. I counted only two hiccups in an entire day’s work: one when it wanted to send me to Hedge End (which is the other side of the Southampton conurbation to where I was working) and one when it wanted to send me to Birmingham. Granted, one of those mistakes was pretty large, but given that it understood me on all the 50+ other occasions throughout the day, I think I can forgive it.
I find myself wondering if voice recognition will actually become particularly widespread or accepted. Apple now includes Siri with Mac OS as well as iOS, Microsoft has Cortana in more recent revisions of its operating systems, Google seems keen to bake voice recognition into Android and all its services and even my TV will let you talk to it. The technology is certainly there and seems to work reasonably well in most cases — certainly considerably better than it did even just a few short years ago — but it’s still painfully awkward to use, particularly if you’re in an environment where there are other people around you. And while I’ve seen the benefit of being able to shout at my phone while I’m in my car, I don’t see the same benefit from talking to my computer, TV or games console when its physical controls are right there and allow me to complete the task I want to complete just as quickly “manually”.
I think we’re still lacking a certain degree of artificial intelligence necessary to make voice activated technology truly useful, worthwhile and ingrained in society. The aim, presumably, is to have something along the lines of Computer in Star Trek, where you can say pretty much anything to the voice activated computer and it will successfully parse what you say (within reason) and perform any task from turning the lights on to inverting the phased magnetic resonance coils into a Gaussian feedback loop. Specify parameters.
I wonder whether that’s something that is truly desirable, though. Is it really more convenient to be able to vocalise something you want your computer to do? It probably is for those who aren’t as computer-literate, but then there’s still a chunk of the population who don’t use computers or mobile phones at all. A shrinking chunk, admittedly, but a chunk nonetheless, and I’m not sure fully voice-capable hardware — which will probably still be on the expensive end of the spectrum — will convert that sort of person into being a believer in technology.
Still. “OK Google” helped me find my way around today, and that, at least, impressed me. Perhaps I’ll discover more interesting uses of it in the future.