Voice Recognition: A Dream As Yet Unrealized

Posted by in Technology

“Is that rain?”

Calrec_SiriYes, it appears to be raining,” replies the pleasant electronic voice. Ten minutes later I’m watching as Samuel L. Jackson has an entire conversation about risotto with his phone, concluding with him telling Siri to “take the night off.” It all looks so easy, so fluid, so magical. Unfortunately this is not how it works in a little place I like to call the “real world.” I think John Roy sums it up nicely in his article entitled Do Android Users Dream of Electric Sheep:

“Imagine my joy when a friend excitedly told me about the latest iPhone, and the amazing Siri…I humoured them as Siri loaded up in five times the time it would have taken someone with no thumbs, just two fingers and a learning disability to type “Weather” into an ‘old-fashioned’ Google shortcut. I was assured the results would be worth that wait, I would be blown away and converted to this new world of wonder; “What’s the weather like tomorrow? A beep… another beep…Siri then replied. As Siri spoke the look on the face of my friend transformed from joy to… something else. Not annoyance, not humour at the technology not working properly, not even confusion…. it was dark, pure anger. As ‘The best waiter in Tomozow’ was being loaded up via Siri, my friend swore, and tapped, and swore again all blotchy faced and offended. Offended; by a computer.”

Siri is not alone in it’s abject failure to make good on a promise made years ago by scientist and science fiction writers alike. Despite claims to the contrary voice recognition is still very much in it’s infancy. Some consumer products have done a better job than others, but nobody does it well. Hey, that’s okay. Advancements in technology constitutes an evolution and without the poor executions of the past we can’t enjoy the fruits of those mistakes today.

I think what drives me crazy is that Apple is overselling the product. A bad user experience is not always the fault of the design. Sometimes you can create a bad user experience by representing an solution as being something that it’s not. Apple is actively marketing Siri as a conversational voice interface. The actual implementation does not correspond with the advertising and this contributes to make Siri a very bad user experience.

Maybe the lesson to be learned from all this is that if want Siri to work I should simply speak more like Samuel L. Jackson: “Tell me Siri…what does Marsellus Wallace look like?!?!”