“We treat computers like indentured servitude right now, and we need to actually take them as pieces of society and treat them that way.” (Richard Sutton)
Two years ago I wrote a blog post titled “talking to software”. The idea of “conversational commerce” was getting increasingly popular and more and more people were looking at it as new global pattern in human-computer interaction.
Fast forward to today and the notion has gone mainstream. Screening through the multitude of prediction posts for the year that just started it will be difficult to miss a references to voice computing as the next big thing.
There is something I find unsatisfactory about all this enthusiasm. It goes beyond the still primitive intelligence of bots and the resulting clunky conversations. More and more, I have been asking myself whether our infatuation with speech as the ultimate human-machine interaction model isn’t more a projection of our intelligence and, in fact, a limitation that prevents us to explore new possibilities.
Does talking to machine have to look like “talking”?
A primitive mean of communication
Typewriters were (allegedly) made slower to avoid jamming
Human language is capable of carrying large quantity of information, more than any other form of communication observed in other animal species.
While this has allowed humans to dominate the planet, it doesn’t mean we are immune from the constraints imposed by the biology of our body and the physics of our environment.
In fact, comparative studies have demonstrated that there is somehow a fixed ratio between the speed and density of different languages . In other words, there is a finite amount of information speech can carry. Translating this finding to a familiar analogy we can say that our language is similar to a QWERTY keyboard, artificially designed to slow us down and prevent “jamming”.