It seems that Google wants us to talk to computers more and the computers talk back to us. Or at least that’s the indication with their recent acquisition of UK company Phonetic Arts. Google seem to like the whole talking at machines thing: their Google Voice Search has been around for a while, and comes as standard on Android phones. Similarly the iphone has a voice control element.
But do we really want talking computers? Apple and Microsoft tried it way back. When I got my first talking Mac, I used it for a day and then turned the thing off because it was annoying. With the Microsoft speach recognition, the problem seemed to be that it worked quite well. However, working quite well isn’t good enough for an input device. It needs to work very well, all the time. I’ve found the same problem with the Google Voice Search. On the one hand, it’s useful if you are walking along the road – using a touch screen on the move is nearly impossible. On the other hand, it doesn’t work well enough.
There’s also the whole talking machine thing. Some people like the idea, but I think that many people (including me) are put off by it. When cinemas started having voice recognition, I felt stupid talking to the machine. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I don’t see much evidence of people using voice control or search on their smartphones. So whilst Google may be striving for the Star Trek ideal, when it comes to computers there are more than just technological barriers to overcome.