Friday, January 6, 2012

How talking to your phone could change you

Both Android phones and iPhones have voice-controlled interface software, but their interfaces are very different. Android phones have Voice Search where the user speaks "commands" and the phone responds with results (or actions if programmed to do so). iPhones have the now-famous Siri where users "ask" the phone questions or requests and the phone responds in a human-like conversational style.

I'm a bit uncomfortable with using voice interfaces. I'm not sure why: perhaps it's because I don't want to sound like I'm talking to myself, or maybe I don't like the sound of my own voice. I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of talking to my phone or my computer as if it were a person. Once you start doing that I think it's a very short step before you start attributing real human characteristics to the machine.

Computer geeks are well-known for giving clever names to their computers and devices, but for me at least it's not a personal thing. Computers need names to help identify them on a network, and because computer geeks have multiple computers they like to use a naming scheme themed on something they have an interest in. I have named most of my past computers after monsters, and my current laptop is named 'wyvern'. However I have never actually talked to my computers the way many petrolheads are known to talk to their cars.

The episode of Radiolab I linked to below includes three stories of just how easy it is for people to start treating machines that pretend to be people as if they really were people, even when we know at a conscious level that they're machines. For me, the scariest story was the one in Clever Bots about Joseph Weizenbaum's secretary spending many hours after work "talking" to ELIZA about her personal life even though she was fully aware that ELIZA was not human. As someone who has difficulty with the art of human conversation, I can see how I could fall into a similar trap.

After listening to the program I felt that the science supported my concerns and I wasn't being overly paranoid. I support full discrimination between humans and machines. No rights for robots! And a big NO to human-robot marriage!!!

Source: Talking to Machines - Radiolab:

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