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Aside – Are voice command interfaces the way of the future?

Posted by Preston on 2009-05-09

Short answer: No.

Slightly longer answer: Can you imagine a world of the future where we tell our computers what we want to do instead of typing? You can? Well, now imagine that world of the future when you’re in a cubicle with 3 other people all telling their computers what you want them to do, and there’s another 19 cubicles on your floor, with another 4 people in each of those cubicles each talking to their computers all day long?

Honestly, it’s difficult enough working in corporate environments with people around us on the phone, let alone people around us either being on the phone or talking their way through an email, or uttering random commands.

Voice command interfaces will undoubtedly continue to improve as processors and digital sampling systems continue to improve, and they will serve a purpose in the future. However, seeing as we would need a fundamental revision to the layout of offices and space within businesses to facilitate all computer-using employees speaking all day at their computers, it’s not likely to be the future of corporate computer usage.


2 Responses to “Aside – Are voice command interfaces the way of the future?”

  1. I don’t see a difference between an employee in a cube talking on the phone with a customer or colleague and talking to their computer. One isn’t more or less distracting than the other, yet we seem to tolerate the former. Background white noise seems to mitigate the cross-cube noise somewhat, as do the headsets that about half of the people around me use on long phone calls.

    And just because there will be cases where voice command will not be appropriate (in cube-ville, perhaps), doesn’t mean that type of interface will not be useful.

    Option one: A Networker job fails @ 3am, I get an SMS. I wake up, go down to the den, boot my computer and authenticate (3 minutes), find my ‘effen key fob (5 minutes), light up the VPN, authenticate (2 minutes), remote into a Windows server, authenticate again (3 minutes), launch a GUI, click through about a half dozen (or more) menus and dialogs (3 minutes) and restart the job. Then log out from the whole mess and shut down the home computer (4 minutes).

    Option two: My phone rings a 3am, a pleasant voice tells me ‘networker group 6 failed with error 23, what would you like to do?’. I reply to the nice voice: ‘restart group 6’ and go back to sleep.

    I’m liking option 2.

    • Preston said

      I do see your point of view, and from an authentication perspective I completely agree with you in as much as the “what to do at 3am scenario” – having done on-call for more years than I care for, hopping through a multitude of authentication layers when still partly asleep isn’t fun.

      My big concern is that I do see a big difference between colleagues talking on the phone and colleagues talking to their computers. (I include myself in that, i.e., I’m not claiming that it would be OK for me to do it.) Having worked with voice input/dictation systems for times during the worst of my RSI, I’m acutely aware that at least 30% of the time what you say to the computer is short bursts of non-sentenced commands which, when heard with no context, are actually quite distracting. A phone conversation on the other hand is just that – a conversation, and I believe that can be more easily filtered than random exclamations of commands. (One only has to observe prairie dogging within cubicles to see how easily it is for people to get distracted by sudden or different noises.)

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