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2011-02-24
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Talking To Computers

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So I saw a post on Slashdot today asking whether people were comfortable with talking to computers. It was written in the context of IBM’s Watson communicating on Jeopardy besides Ken and Brad.1 Is the classic Star Trek portrayal of Uhura interfacing with the computer really going to become the modus operandi for us to get used to?

Back in 2005 in Baghdad, the company commanders were complaining because they didn’t have telephones at their company TOCs from which to talk back to BN HQ. There was simply a lack of hardware VoIP phones (we had made the transition off POTs gear). I ended up installing a Ventrilo server and putting clients on all of their laptops allowing them to have clear voice communications with anybody on our FOB (or outside so long as the relays didn’t drop). It was amusing because for all their bitching about having to use SINCGARS radios instead of phones … they continued to use the SINCGARS even after the Ventrilo proved to be amazingly clear because, as one infantry commander put it, “I feel like a dork talking to my laptop.”

Is that the general consensus on “talking” with your computer? After all, people already look ridiculous, as if they’re raging schizophrenics talking to themselves while using bluetooth headsets (especially women with hair covering their ears). I would assume that stigma would be especially exacerbated by talking to a computer since the social norm already associates the behavior with über geekiness.



1 While it is true that Watson did not aurally process the Jeopardy prompts, it still seemed that way to human perception.

POST EDIT: Interestingly, this was written over half a decade ago and now it's quite normal for people to speak to Siri, Cortana, and Alexa. How quickly social norms with technology change!


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