THROWBACK THURSDAY: Voice Assistant rants

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Today we are surrounded by voice-controlled assistants. Siri and Google were just the start; today we have Alexa, Cortana, and others I can’t even think of. I’ll be honest, I rarely use them, since I can type a good five times faster than I talk. Then again, for isolated millennials, perhaps the idea of a computer that talks back to you is better than sitting in an empty room. If you think about it, that’s kind of sad.

I was a little ahead of the curve, I like to think, in the summer of 2013 when I laid down my rules for how voice control should work. I think that they still hold up, except I stupidly thought that by the time voice control apps got mature people would still watch American Idol.

In many ways the voice assistant wars are still going on and in many ways they are already irrelevant. I don’t know a single person who uses Cortana, but certainly there are enough people who use the Apple and Google voice assistants. As cell-phone-driving laws get more and more restrictive, we’ll have practically no choice but to use voice assistants in the car, and the good news is that they’re almost good enough to do that. They can read your texts and emails, and understand relationships (“my wife”) and times (“next Wednesday at 2”) pretty well. You don’t have to really obey different rules to talk to different assistants, other than calling them by name and I don’t know exactly how you’d get past that.

I feel like the next step would be if the assistants actually called or spoke to you unprompted. Like, if you were not on the road at 11:15 for your 11:30 dentist appointment, Siri could say, “Excuse me Stuart, but I think you should leave for your dentist appointment now.” But to really make it work, she would have to wait for a natural pause in the conversation and that would mean she was listening to — and to some degree parsing — everything that I’m saying, and that scares me. I don’t want her doing that.

I’ll let you know in another three years if I’ve gotten more comfortable with talking to Siri. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.