So amongst a flurry of new product announcements yesterday, Microsoft announced that with Windows 10, the “voice assistant” Cortana will become part of the desktop and laptop experience. Putting aside that Cortana conjures up images for me of the 1960s Ford, this has got me wondering: in the age of Siri and OK Google and Cortana, who exactly is talking to their devices? It’s a mystery to me as big as who exactly it is that clicks on banner ads.
See, the thing is, as of today I can issue voice instructions to my phone, my tablet, my laptop (it’s been available in Chrome/ChromeOS for months) and even my car. And do you know what? I just don’t.
Why not? Well, on the face of it, it’s for three reasons. I’m suspect of the accuracy (although I realise that’s subjective impression rather than objective fact); the times when it seems it would be really useful the UI just isn’t there (using the phone in the car always seems to result in needing to press things on the screen at some point); and most importantly of all, it makes me feel like a dick.
That last point is, I’m sure, why when I look around offices or trains or out on the street I don’t see people saying “OK Google” or “Hello Siri” to their phones (there are more obvious reasons why no-one is talking to Cortana). It doesn’t feel comfortable. It makes us feel silly.
The only machine I will regularly and comfortably talk to is voicemail. And I’m sure that that is because of the expectation that the message isn’t being parsed by a machine, but simply relayed to a flesh and blood human being. I’m talking to someone, not a something. Even though the very same something leaves me cold when it’s in the form of one of those interactive voice-recognition call centre things which can only make me think that that service provider thinks so little of me that they won’t even talk to me.
Thing is, if I’m issuing instructions to a machine, I’m happier doing it with buttons and levers and switches. That’s the natural order of things. That’s how it should be. Language shouldn’t be debased by being used just to bark orders at our slaves. We’ve evolved from those days. Well, most of us have.