Google have recently launched their take on the Amazon Echo. The reviews suggest that it might be “even” better. hmmm. Well like many people who read the swooning reviews of the Echo, I rushed out and bought one. And for about a week I was thrilled with it.
Now six months later it just sits there and perhaps twice a week I ask it for the weather forecast. I’ve given up asking it to do anything else because it’s either not smart enough to understand the question I want answered or incapable of understanding the words I’m using.
The last infuriating attempt to use it, which is why Alexa is now in Coventry, was asking it to play music by a band called “Lowly”. No matter how I tried, Alexa was determined to make me listen to “So Lonely” by The Police. A fine track indeed – an important memory from my student days – but not what I wanted. I was truly yelling “ALEXA STOP!” by the end of it. Had a hockey stick been nearby, Alexa would have been a puck. Why isn’t she smart enough to understand that being told to “stop” several times after actioning the same command, means she’s getting it wrong? I don’t think I’ve ever plunged so fast from believing the hype into the trough of disillusionment (Forrester ©)
Since then Alexa has been lonely (or “lowly”, she doesn’t know the difference) – so much so that from time to time she decides that the TV is talking to her. I’m half expecting her to start talking to herself soon. And responding to the TV is a whole other problem which I’ll blog about some other time.
Several other people I’ve talked to report similar disillusionment so I’m not alone in falling out of love with Alexa. I’m not at all interested in seeing whether “Hey Google” is any smarter. In six month’s time I expect to find that about 50% of adopters have lost all interest in their new toys.
This is the problem with voice control: when it doesn’t work, there is no way around it. The more frustrated you become the less chance that your enunciation or choice of words is going to overcome the limitations of the technology. And it is infuriating like no other technology “fail” I know.
I’ve watched the confusion, embarrassment and frustration of many elderly people attempting to use technology; the challenge of unfamiliar visual metaphors, ambigious terminology, and controls not designed for arthritic or trembling fingers. At times it has seemed as if voice control could be the miraculous answer to all these problems. And then I’ve reflected on the fact that the elderly can have difficulty in remembering the names of things and can have slurred or faint speech and I’ve sensed the potential for even more frustration and confusion.
So have we ruled out some form of voice control for Kraydel? No, not at all. If every spoken command has a reliable alternate means of accessing it, if we can distinguish between commands from the TV/Radio and real people then it is a genuinely useful capability that will benefit many. So we’re looking at it, and we’ll keeping looking and evaluating, and at some point the technology will genuinely be ready, rather than the false dawn we’re currently experiencing.