Feb 16, 2006

the virtue of the virtual

Keith Buhler isn't afraid of robots. He's afraid of robot voices.
[T]he more and more humanish we make automated teller machines, the more pleasant they are at first, but to the same degree that they are pleasant, they have the potential to be potentially horrible and terrifying, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, saying it over and over and over and over and over with no feeling, no human awareness, no human sympathy....

Human speech is for communication; it is not for automated pattern recognition, programmed into a chipset by some other human person. The advent of automated tellers such as these, as it becomes more pervasive, will not affect the robots to whom we are “speaking,” but it will have unfortunate consequences of the way humans interact with other humans. Using speech to push buttons on a human-sounding machine will begin to form habits (over long periods of time) of mechanical, unnatural, unfeeling modes of speaking.
Two points. First, though it might be a natural reaction to find automated tellers annoying and frustrating, it doesn't have to be. For instance, when I call Qwest to pay my phone bill, I get to use whatever silly voice I can think of, just to test its voice recognition technology. Nothing like reading a credit card number like Marlon Brando with a sinus infection.

Second, as commentator Warren Falk notes, computers are often more polite than their human counterparts. In fact, we need computers to model politeness in speech. We can learn civility, tact, and infinite silicon patience from them.

Sidebar. Maybe computers can make us better people. A couple articles worth reading if you have access to NewScientist: computer users report less frustration when dealing with an on-screen female "bot," and virtual fitness trainers (also female) get people motivated to work out more.

1 comment:

Reach said...

In aviation, on the flight deck, many of the autopilot and ground proximity warning systems utilize audio warnings on the over head speaker. Originally designed with a male voice, they have been changed to a female voice. No sexism here. It has been proven in the flight simulators, that the female voice is more soothing and encourages less stress among the pilots, male or female, while they are under duress in most situations.

Side note: I just hate it when the automated voice screams, then says "Oh no, you did it just I said to do it" .....only joking