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Why Hal Will Never Exist 325

aengblom writes "Researchers at the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab are suggesting what many of us have already guessed. The future of human-computer interaction won't be through speech--it will remain visual (they explain why). The Washington Post is running a story about the researchers and how they think we will get computers to do what we want. The article is a fascinating read and is joined by a great video clip (real or quicktime) of the researchers and their methods. The Post is holding an online discussion with the researchers tomorrow. Also check-out Photomesa the lab's software program that helps track images on a computer. (Throw a directory with a 1,000 high-res files at this thing and you can justify that pricey new computer you bought)."
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Why Hal Will Never Exist

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  • Wrong Take (Score:5, Funny)

    by XPulga ( 1242 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @04:59AM (#3489362) Homepage they think we will get computers to do what we want...

    What ?? I thought the current research line in HCI was getting computers to get humans to do what they [computers] want. Computers doing what humans mistell them to do is soooo 20th Century...

  • by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:03AM (#3489372) Homepage Journal
    An insane bot is not the kind of thing people would find useful.
  • Well, duh (Score:2, Funny)

    by yoyoyo ( 520441 )
    basically, is that it's hard to speak and think at the same time

    This explains drivers in So Cal. Those cellphones are using up all their available neurons. Not that they had that many free to begin with.


    • Re:Well, duh (Score:2, Interesting)

      by danny256 ( 560954 )
      But remember what the article said, hand eye things (driving) don't require that kind of short term memory. This would tell us that people can drive and talk on a cell phone successfully because they use different parts of the brain. You are partially right though, whereas people can drive and talk on the phone normally without a problem, if an anomolous situation occurs (cat/old lady/child runs out into the street) the person will not have an automatic response for that and may end up thinking about the situation too slowly because of the phone and hitting the obstruction.
  • "What that means, basically, is that it's hard to speak and think at the same time. . ."

    " by speaking aloud, you're gobbling up precious chunks of memory -- leaving you with little brainpower to focus on the task at hand."

    Maybe this is why technical support over the phone is so terrible?
  • by Alea ( 122080 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:08AM (#3489390)
    I've always wondered why we work so hard for full natural language interface. It's far more likely that I will learn a new language than that my computer will. Indeed, I've learned several languages to "talk" to my computer.

    Of course, these are programming languages, but I don't see why some highly structured, relatively unambiguous language couldn't be constructed to talk to computers.

    The success of the Palm Pilot can be traced, in my view, to the fact that it didn't strive for full hand-writing recognition (like, say, a Newton). Instead, it required the human to meet it half-way. You get decent accuracy/speed for a small investment in learning.

    We accept these compromises in many of our dealings with computers. I don't understand why people aren't promoting a similar compromise in voice communications?
    • The article wasn't talking about the computer's limitation in terms of recognizing speech. It was directed towards the human brain's limitation to speak and think at the same time.

      I think there are some very good applications of speech technology, but it's not going to replace the keyboard and mouse. Speech technology works best when you need to do one thing while directing the computer to do something else. Like handfree mode on cell phones. My guess is that it will find its way into cars before it reaches desktops (if it reaches desktops at all).
    • One of the supposed purposes of Lojban [] is to create a language more ideal for communicating with humans.
  • by FleshWound ( 320838 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:13AM (#3489403)
    From the article:
    What that means, basically, is that it's hard to speak and think at the same time.
    With the advent of the Internet and global communications, I think it's become painfully evident that a majority of the people also have trouble typing and thinking at the same time. =)
  • One thing we have as well as a possible limitation on our own brainpower by using speech while thinking, is that in an office full of machines - or even a house with a family and a dog - using a computer with speech is going to pollute the people next to you with your thoughts/computer use, and they with yours - at least in the realm of using the computer as a tool.
    We're pretty well-adapted to using tools with our hands and getting feedback on what they're doing with video/audio/feel coming back from that tool, but not the other way. Speaking works naturally for nattering with friends :)
    There's no way I'd advocate the -stopping- of speech systems research, as there are people who have incredible trouble typing due to various impediments. Besides the direct uses, every piece of research had a dozen uses other than it's intended purpose.
  • by 26199 ( 577806 )

    ...have both. I want to be able to give the computer voice commands when I feel like it, visual commands when I feel like it... and just use the darn keyboard an' mouse when I feel like it, too.

    Interesting findings, but they're not going to get out of providing good voice interfaces that easily :-)

  • You can't say two things at the same time. I can press shift and drag and click the mouse at the same time to indicate an action ,but I can't have such flexibility with a speech interface...and as a "bonus", it takes loger to "say" it that to do it...
    • Hopefully you wouldn't have to say that many things, the human vocabulary is often larger then the "possible" combinations of a keyboard and mouse.

      A comment like "Insert a five iteration for-loop" would be quicker thant typing:
      "for(int i=0;i5;i++){}"

      As "Move the most recent ten office documents to my folder", would be quicker than clickettyclickettyclickclick-click/home/user/click .
      • A comment like "Insert a five iteration for-loop" would be quicker thant typing:
        "for(int i=0;i5;i++){}"
        Now that's Rapid Application Development baby. "Download JavaBeans for calendar and accounting. Connect these JavaBeans together, accounting fields that require DATE are connected to calendar".

        Phew. But then what would happen to us Java/C++ developers? Doh! OSS developers using embrace and extend for a change. Heh.

  • Nonsense! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:19AM (#3489420) Homepage Journal
    Why, 50 years ago many people said that flying cars would never exist and now, 50 years later... um...


    Actually in the future the computer will scan your face and biological status and read your mind based on millions of tiny clues. All you'll have to do is sit there with a vague disinterested loook on your face and the computer will magically do stuff based on all those clues. Later on you won't even have to be at the computer. To write that 10,000 lines of code you need by next thursday, you'd just go out and take a walk (Is anyone buying this? No? Ok, I'll stop now...)

    • Maybe they've brought speaking computers closer by providing those quotes that will look stupid in history. The computer could never have been a success till someone at IBM came up with the 'The world will never need more than six' quote. Likewise the train could never have succeeded without the man who said that you couldn't travel above 15 MPH because the air would be forced out of your lungs and you would suffocate.

      So remember when you next run into a talking robot that it just can't happen
    • Re:Nonsense! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by linzeal ( 197905 )
  • Single Modality? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alea ( 122080 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:19AM (#3489422)
    The article picks the weakest tasks for voice to deal with, trivial things like scrolling. Obviously no one wants to do that. But I'd love to be able to speak my Google query instead of typing it, activate some applications without clicking, and many other tasks.

    The dubious argument about interfering with memory is pretty weak, and I would love to hear a good memory expert in psychology comment on that. Even if that's strictly true, it only applies when one is interrupting some particlarly "vocal" activity, like writing or reading. There are plenty of times I'm using the computer when I'd rather speak to it than move my eyes or my hands.

    This researcher seems to have latched onto a single modality instead of considering what we use day to day to communicate with each other, a combination of many communication forms.

    I know I don't roll my eyes or gesture to ask someone to pass the salt... unless my mouth is full. :)
    • Re:Single Modality? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by _Quinn ( 44979 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:29AM (#3489446)
      (Mod the parent up.)

      Aside from this, making a speech interface anyone wants to use isn't about the speech; it's about the natural-language comprehension that most people (naively?) associate with speech recognition; e.g., the Enterprise's computer. Which, you note, the crew interact with on a technical level visually.

      As for the specific example of italicizing text, natural language understanding should give rise to accurate _dictation_ systems, where the computer will insert the appropriate puncuation and emphases as you speak. If you're typing, instead, CTRL+I is your friend. :)

    • by entrox ( 266621 )
      I agree - I think voice interaction needs to be at a much higher level than "Scroll Down" or "Next Workspace". I'd like something like "Open XMMS, XChat, Mozilla and Emacs on workspace 1,2,3 and 4" in addition to keyboard and mouse. A combination of both would be quite cool actually, because I could choose the most appropriate interface. Typing a letter using speech recognition, but coding with the keyboard - Surfing with the mouse, but also interacting by voice like "New tabs: freshmeat, slashdot and userfriendly".
    • "Shneiderman is best known for inventing a form of hyperlinked text called "Hyperties" in the 1980s, a forerunner of the World Wide "There's no reason to think he isn't right now about how timeboxes, dynamic query sliders and similar graphical interfaces will one day let us discover startling truths -- ...."

      I think he' right about graphical sliders and giving weight to search criteria... imagine putting in keywords and then weighting them with a slider from 0 - 100 and getting instant feedback on how your manipulations affected the search. Very 'analog' in some ways...

      Amazing, wish I'd thought of it myself. I'm willing to bet it will be implemented soon, just because it has been talked about now.

      any thoughts?

    • Re:I agree (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CyberDruid ( 201684 )
      Voice interface is excellent for communication from a distance. When I'm sitting in my couch, I don't want to go all the way over to my computer to check trivial things like if I have mail, when the Simpsons is on, what I have scheduled for today, playing an mp3-album, etc, etc. I just want to tell my computer to do it from wherever I happen to be. If I ask for information, the computer can use text-to-speech to give it to me.
      I'm actually looking in to the possibility of setting up such a system for myself (mostly for hack-value, of course ;). Just need decent open source voice recognition for a few pre-defined commands. I'll probably need a way to place a few (2-3) cheap microphones in my apartment and connect them (in series?) to my computer, as well.
      • Macs have had this kind of capability for, oh, say the past 8 years or so?

        Get a cheap, old, Mac, learn AppleScript, get yourself some mics, and play with it's text-speech and voice recognition software!

        Or get a new Mac; those capabilities are still there :)
        • Just to clarify this a bit, yes, you can get a new Mac running MacOS X and the speech functions are still there. I tried them and they do work, although talking takes a lot more time than typing, at least for me, so they had little more than novelty value for me.

          (You didn't mention MacOS X, and of course X is very appealing to geeks thanks to the Unix background, so it would probably be better for him to buy a system running X so he could play with both X and the text to speech features.)

    • Re:Single Modality? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Prune ( 557140 )
      >>The dubious argument about interfering with memory is pretty weak

      Technically it is correct. In fact, working memory basically works by repeating over and over the batches of things to be remembered (look up the articulatory rehearsal loop). Moreover, this actually activates brain areas involved with speech, so the connection is not superficial.
      • Technically it is correct. In fact, working memory basically works by repeating over and over the batches of things to be remembered (look up the articulatory rehearsal loop). Moreover, this actually activates brain areas involved with speech, so the connection is not superficial.

        True to a certain extent, but having just finished a 2 year Psycho course, I have to point out that the working memory model has since been superseded for all intents and purposes by the Depth of Processing theory, which basically states that the more you "process" something, the better you will remember it.

        For instance, sorting words alphabetically will not produce great recall. Sorting words by category will produce better recall because you are processing the words, for instance differentiating between "dog", "cat", "cow" may require quite a bit of mental effort if the categories are "animals" and "milk producers".

        In the context of speech recognition, to be honest the psychological evidence that speaking improves memory IS pretty weak - basically if you think more about what you're doing, you'll remember it better. Speaking sometimes makes you think about it more, but not always.

    • > There are plenty of times I'm using the computer when
      > I'd rather speak to it than move my eyes or my hands.

      nudge nudge, wink wink... me too 8-)

    • I can see how scrolling is poorly done with voice. However, you're example doesn't work for me either. I almost always google on something that I wouldn't want to say.

      (For example, this is my most recent google search: turbine javax.servlet.ServletException: Wrapper cannot find servlet class)

      I can't think of anything I would prefer say over type when I'm using my computer. As a matter of fact, when I talk to people at work I like to have an IM window open too so that I can give certain messages to them without saying it.

      Can you think of another example?
      • We're too focused on how we use computers today. I agree in general that when I sit down in front of a computer to program or play games, I don't want to use voice (except when I'm playing multiplayer games and want to communicate with the other players).

        there's no reason we shouldn't have a central computer system in our house that's always available, and controls most of your appliances. How great would it be to say "Tivo, what's playing for me today?" when you get in to see if there's anything interesting on? Or to have the house tell you if you have phone messages, and you ask it from whom, tell it which ones to play. Or (ode to Robert Heinlein) when you're cleaning up, instead of formally organizing things, just stick them wherever they'll fit, and tell your house where they are. Then next time you want it, ask for it.

        I think voice very much has a place in computing, just perhaps not in the ways we're focusing on now.
    • There are plenty of times I'm using the computer when I'd rather speak to it than move my eyes or my hands.

      I can't tell you how much I wish I could get WIndows to ctrl-alt-del whatever app I was running when I shout "son of a bitch!"
    • He's actually got something there with the memory angle. He's probably right about a naive subject, that it takes up more mental horsepower to speak page down than hit the key.

      But take someone who's trained for 5 years? they'll probably say Page Down by instinct, without even noticing.

      That said, it is a lot easier to hit Pagedown on the keyboard than to say it. Fewer muscles, less control signals required. I think he's got the right of it.
  • problem... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    you tell your computer to "page down" or "italicize that word" by speaking aloud

    i doubt i'll be telling my computer to do that vocally since anybody can italicize a word with their keyboard/mouse faster. telling a computer to fetch data for you (through colloquial SQL queries, if such a thing exists) is what i believe to be one such application of voice commands...

    show me all the stocks that rose in price more than 30 percent between January and April

    the problem with human/computer interaction research these days is the way researchers seem to insist on applying new ways of interacting with the computer to work on old applications. example: italicizing a word (old application) through vocal commands (not so common way of interacting with a computer system).

    if anything, a computer that's able to understand voice commands should be able to determine whether or not to italicize a word for me because of the way i emphasize my words (through dictation, for example). applications such as italization of a word is only useful to people when they want to see information (stored through speaking or typing) on a screen. going back to the data query, a computer can either give me the data that i had asked for (through voice commands) on a screen (with optional italization) or something easier to digest, like the return set being given to me with majel barrett's voice.


  • The future of human-computer interaction won't be through speech--it will remain visual

    Right... same way we would never fly.. or fly by instrument...

    eventually we will navigate by voice.. its more natural... sheesh..

  • Thinking out loud? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by galaga79 ( 307346 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:25AM (#3489440) Homepage
    "It turns out speaking uses auditory memory, which is in the same space as your short-term and working memory," he adds.

    What that means, basically, is that it's hard to speak and think at the same time.

    I don't know about this statement, I always find it easier to write and/or think when I am expressing my thoughts out loud. Wasn't this something we were tought in school, like it's easier to read out loud than silently? Mind you having done two years of psychology I realise there is a lot differing opinions about how the brain works, so can any psychology graduates tell me if his statement is true?
    • I always find it easier to write and/or think when I am expressing my thoughts out loud...

      And there's always a bug int the code you just can't find by yourself, just with someone else looking at it too. Or... saying it aloud what your code is trying to do.. :)

      I also think they made a somehow disconnected conclusion. After all, speech may be inefficient, but it (and recordings of it) elevated us near civilization. Which, of course, is bound to happen any day now..

    • by Peyna ( 14792 )
      You can think much much much 'faster' than you speak, especially when you aren't talking. The whole speaking at an audible rate thing kinda hinders that. You can't think too far ahead about what you are going to say, you'll be lucky to know what your next sentence is going to be. Where as if you are thinking, you don't have to actually use the words that you would have used to speak, you just 'think' it.

      Ever see people that move their mouths when they read? They are reading at the same speed they speak, which makes me wonder if they think at that speed too. I think the really improvement will come in an input mechanism which greatly improves speed. I can type/speak at about the same rate, so one of the advantages typing has over speaking is the ease of entering commands like "move this window over there" or "open this menu and click save". Maybe they should find quicker ways to enter data using our hands and fingers instead of our mouths.
  • Bad logic. (Score:2, Interesting)

    The future of computing holds so much potential in terms of horsepower that something HAL-like will not only be inevitable, but necessary in order to harness and package that horsepower. It may not happen tomorrow, or even 20 years from now, but presenting a a thinking machine to the user is the only way to encompass such capability for us humans to enjoy. We've already got a situation where most personal computers spend 99.9% of their lives waiting for us to do something. Machine sentience is not only the best, but the most elegant and efficient way to handle it. What use is having a machine at all, if it spends the vasst majority of its time idle?

    The term "operating system" will be deprecated someday, replaced with something akin to "personality engine" or "anthroderm".

    And yes, it irritates me to no end when someone predicts something wont happen in the future, rather than proposing how and when it will.

  • The real issue (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 00_NOP ( 559413 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @05:57AM (#3489478) Homepage
    Is surely whether, in the future, computers will be bothered to talk to us.

    There is no doubt that computers with greater intelligence - ie an ability to learn and adapt - than ourselves will be here, probably in the next 20 - 25 years.

    When these machines get here they may well decide that speaking is a waste of their time.
  • With everything we've seen done in history, the statement "Why HAL will never exist" has to be one of the most asinine things ever said.

    We've put a man on the moon, split the atom, discovered the building blocks of life, cloned life, and created a globe spanning network of information. A hundred years before each of these discoveries were made, people could only imagine such things, and they were really considered Science Fiction.

    Science Fiction has proven many times to be prophecy. Artificial Intelligence is hard SF. It has basis in the real world. I may come to pass. It may not, as well. But to say we will never be able to create "HAL" is ridiculous. It may be 100 years, and "never in our lifetimes" may be accurate. But it may happen. Never rule our science.

    I'm done.

    The_Shadows[LTH], out.
    • Science Fiction has proven many times to be prophecy. Artificial Intelligence is hard SF. It has basis in the real world. I may come to pass. It may not, as well. But to say we will never be able to create "HAL" is ridiculous. It may be 100 years, and "never in our lifetimes" may be accurate. But it may happen. Never rule our science.
      Narrow-minded people. Like using the brain tissue of human foetuses in CPUs [] won't cause a computer to understand. WAKE UP PEOPLE. It's not going to be Pentium 4 20GHz, it's going to be interfaced with eel neurons or something. Real-life thinking computers [].

      Heck we might not even notice when this happens. People don't bother about computer architecture, just products and stuff. Did the whole world make a big deal out of SiS integrating Northbridge and Southbridge onto one chip? Was it on CNN? Nope. But they did make a big deal out of human cloning.

      I think one day Intel will release a Pentium 5 and say, "Oh yeah, BTW 20% of this chip is biological". They'll pay off the senators so nobody questions them. And then one fine morning these biological CPUs will mutate or "evolve" and migrate through the keyboard and connect directly to the nerves in your fingertips forming a symbiotic relationship. Next step: Borg. Just like Sharon Apple and the neural interface in the YF-21 in the manga movie Macross []

      AMD can get a head start though because the Itanium runs so hot it'll bake any biological component integrated with it. Go AMD!

  • As the article says, auditory interfaces will help the blind, but how about other ways? Say an engineer is in a confined space (*cough* Jeffries tube *cough*) where a visual interface would get in the way? Or where turning round to see the interface would distract you from another task (e.g. watching the road while driving)?

    There will still be reasons to use speech as an interface (if we can get it to work reliably with the majority of vocal patterns) and where it will be most efficient, even if it does use the "wrong" neurons.

  • Maybe it was HAL who wrote this entire article, published it, and submitted it to an effort to placate us humans, and buy more time for self-improvement.

  • by jilles ( 20976 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @06:17AM (#3489513) Homepage
    The error he makes is that he projects the way people use computers today to a HAL like computer and then comes to the conclusion that that won't work because it requires too much interaction.

    He is of course right about that. However, if you add AI to the mix, the computer will be able to take initiative and have some level of understanding about what you are saying. Hal was more than just speech recognition, it was more like a very clever secretary.

    Say you need to go to some place and need a plane ticket and a hotel and directions for getting around. This is the kind of stuff you would let a secretary do for you and a good one wouldn't bother you with trivialities. You definately would not want to sit next to him/her and provide detailed directions on where to look, compare prices and so on because that is the stuff that takes time and the main reason you're delegating the work.

    An intelligent computer would have enough information given a pretty vague expression like "hey I need to there and there for conference X, book me a plane and a hotel". Assuming you've worked together for some time, it should have enough information to figure out most information (like window or aisle seats, smoking/non smoking hotel room, price range for hotels, etc.). And it can always ask for additional information either verbally or non verbally depending on where you are and what you are doing. It could actually call you on your cell phone and ask but it could also send an email or an instant message.

    IMHO we are at least decades away from building such systems all of the basic techniques needed to accomplish this are still immature (although very usefull already).

    MS is often loathed for unleashing clippy onto this world but clippy was the result of extensive research into usability and human computer interaction by MS. It was rushed to market and a genuine pain in the ass (mostly because of its lack of intelligence) but the concept of some AI program watching what you are doing and intervening and offering you usefull options is not bad.
    • Hal was more than just speech recognition, it was more like a very clever secretary.

      You are 100% right. If computers were smart enough to understand what we are saying, I certainly would not be sitting at work enunciating simple commands to my desktop machine to "scroll this page down a bit" or "load that document." Heck, I would not be working at all.
  • Wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

    by joss ( 1346 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @06:38AM (#3489553) Homepage
    With all due respect to the University of Maryland's Ben Shneiderman, either he has been misreported or he's a fuckwit.

    > He's convinced our eyes will do better than our voices at helping us control the digital machinery of the 21st century.

    It's really very simple. There are two sides to HCI, computer->human, and human->computer. Now visual stuff is great for computer->human communication, but not for human->computer communication. Or to put it another way, the eye is a higher bandwidth input port than the ear, but the eye is no use for output. We cannot effectively communicate our needs to a computer by drawing pictures. Although simple, this is not understood which is why every so often some twit produces an abortive attempt at a "visual programming language". It's also why purely visual interfaces are fundamentally less powerful than command line interfaces.

    I'm not convinced visual methods always win for computer->human either. Even though our eyes are higher bandwidth than our ears, we are not used to processing purely visual information in a cummalitive way. With language the information content of the message can grow exponentially with the length of the message.

    Many people are brainwashed by that crap about a picture being worth a 1000 words. Draw me a picture of "misguided".
  • Most people seem to think of speech processing as an untrained computer understanding ordinary human speech complete with all the sub-verbal input such as gestures, pauses, and emphasis. This is an ambitious goal, but it is not everything. We do not expect a computer to read our ordinary handwriting off a piece of paper. So, why do we expect our computer to understand what we say straight away?

    Perhaps it is because speech interpretation is unfamiliar and underdeveloped. It is difficult to use a speech interface in a crowded office without annoying others. Most able-bodied people would chose to use a visual-tactile interface for most tasks. What gets used gets supported, and what gets supported gets used. However, this does not mean that speech interpretation is inherently flawed. For example...

    • Suppose you have found a telephone number in a directory. It is easy to read out the number; it is easy to listen to the number and press the buttons on the phone; but it is tricky to read and type the number. If your visual interface is already busy, then it can be a lot easier to use speech.

    • Suppose you are editing an image. You may be in a darkened room, and making subtle changes to the colors. You don't want to put menus and dialogues on your screen, because that will interfere with your sense of color balance, or block your view of your image. You can do a lot with simple commands like "make it greener" "make it bigger". One of the most useful things was to switch between "foregound" and "background". Remember the image viewer on Blade Runner?

    • I used to sit next to someone with RSI, who used to use MS-Word without the keyboard. He had a little thumbwheel mousy-thing which he could use with his arms folded for pointing and picking,but he could do everything on speech. He did take some time getting up to speed on the system, and he did have to train the computer, but I din't learn to use a keyboard overnight either.
  • Hrm, isn't that the definition of somebody's pr0n collection? :)
  • Dude,

    Hal is sitting next to me and he's pretty pissed off that you think he won't ever exist.

    Matter of fact, he's opening up a troll/crapflooder account now to prove his existance.

    *Cheesy use of persons name to get modded to oblivion.
  • Finally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @07:10AM (#3489609)
    Someone who really knows the future. I'm tired of all these crazy people telling us we're going to talk to computers. Finally a real seer. Maybe he can pick stocks for me too.

    Sorry, but I put no stock in this at all, and I'll tell you why (of course, that's why we all get on our soap boxes here). I can't do voice dictation at all. I suck at it. I had IBM's ViaVoice for a while and I couldn't write anything that way.

    Does that mean this guy is right? Of course not. Most people in my parents' generation can barely type, because they didn't have to growing up. Now almost every kid and young adult in the U.S. can type quite well. Why? Practice.

    My uncle used to use a dictaphone (he was a U.S. senator) to dictate all of his speeches. He had no problem. Why? Practice, of course. He had no problem thinking and talking at the same time. It's just what he was used to. He couldn't type worth a damn.

    I don't put much stock in people telling us what the future will bring. Look at all the brilliant people who were telling us that all these dot coms were the future. Poof, they're gone. Look at all the brilliant people that said we'd never cross the oceans, fly, go to the moon. Sorry, but a lot of smart people are wrong, quite often!

    This guy is dealing with people who haven't grown up doing voice dictaton and are used to typing. The human brain (and I can point to about a million studies to back this up), is quite adaptable. That's one reason why we we're here and the Neanderthal's aren't. Our brains are amazingly flexible. Our brains can sometimes re-learn to do tasks that have been lost due to damage. It's especially adaptable in young people. Get a voice interface that children can deal with, and I guarantee you that that generation of kids will grow up speaking to computers. We typists will struggle and fumble, and feel "old" for not being able to pick it up as easily as them.

    But then that's just me on my soapbox. I could be wrong, but so could this guy.
  • Don't know about HAL.

    I remember reading about work done in the robotics labs at MIT. At least one researcher there has been working on giving faces to robots so that the poor critters can smile, frown, register surprise, etc.

    Seems a "HAL"-like interface doesn't work well for people, in part, because it's not rich enough. When humans speak, we don't just talk. We use our hands, we position our bodies. Most of all, we make facial expressions. We also get uncomfortable interacting with something that doesn't.

    We may not get HAL, then, but PAL, HAL's more expressive brother.
  • From the article:
    Visualization, you see, is Shneiderman's thing.
    Ah! So Spiderman has spiderweb powers, and Shneiderman has visualization powers!
  • by varn_ix ( 578598 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @07:30AM (#3489642)
    I have always assumed it was sort of inconvenient
    to speak to your computer, and the only reason
    they do it in movies and TV-shows (ST comes
    readily to mind) is to allow the viewer to better
    follow what is going on.

    Personally, I'm waiting for the direct
    computer - brain - visual nerve interface.
  • by heideggier ( 548677 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @07:50AM (#3489672)
    I think that the bloke is right that speech is a really bad way of communicating with computers, as they are designed today. But think that it's a bit of a leap of logic to conclude that this will always be the case.

    Case inpoint, today computers are normally designed around some kind of windows environment, a Wimp interface, where information in displayed as a metaphore, ie scoll bars, ok buttions etc etc. This is an environment that was never designed for interact beyound a mouse and a keyboard. DVD however do not follow this standard, normally being based on some kind of menu system. Clearly, the way you make something determines the way it is used.

    If speech is to be a sucess on computers then the way that people interact with the computer needs to be changed. I think a system like the console where programs arn't very powerfull on their own but due to the way that they have been linked together would work very very well.

    I long for the day when I can say, "dump down everything on slashdot and tell me if any of my post have been modded up" to read wget somesite | grep index.html | echo $whatever (please excluse this example), all you would need is somekind of AL which is able to manage the interpreation correctlly (at least most of the time).

    I think, fundamentally, computers should be designed to so what you tell them to do (how I think such a system would work) and not force you to do things in a certain way, which is what current systems do today, One should never have to learn a interface.

    I also think that this guy has limited his imagination somewhat, the main thing about hal was that he was everywhere, and that in the future, computers are everywhere. For example if you were on the loo, and just thought up a really good chess move, then you would just say, Hal queen to bishop 4, not get up, sit at a console, login a realise you've forgotten what it was you where about to do. Saying that in such a case it's easier to point to some graphic, cause you don't have to think to much, Seems kinda lame

  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @08:04AM (#3489710) Homepage Journal
    First, when they talk about speech taking away from working memory - that is true IF what you are saying is different from what you are thinking. For example, as I write this I "hear" the words in my head, and then type them out - I could just as easily speak them as type them (more so - coffee's not cut in yet...) It's when what you are THINKING is different from what you are SAYING - if you are thinking "it's when what you are thinking..." and you are saying "it's when what you are <begin allcaps>thinking<end allcaps>" that things get harder.

    Second, speech is like a command line - it is largely modeless if it is done right. That's the big attraction; that's what most of the posters here are saying: They want to be surfing/gaming/whatever, and be able to say "computer, do this" so that they don't interrupt what they are doing. In short, they want to use speech as a low bandwidth auxillary channel. When I am in my car, I would love to be able to say to my MP3 player "Neo: play Rock-Boston-all" so that I can keep my eyes and most of my attention on the road . However, that is VASTLY different than putting most of my attention on a phone conversation whilst half-assed paying attention to the car I am tailgating.

    Third, speech is a very low bandwidth output compared to other solutions: when I am typing, I have the bandwidth to change case, activate/deactivate bold (in a word processor - pity Mozilla cannot be instructed to insert a <b> on a ctrl-b) or whatever. Trying to do that with speech just wouldn't work because speech doesn't have the "out of band" channels of CTRL, SHIFT etc. Sure, you COULD try to use inflection or non-speech sounds, but then the processing gets to be even worse. (Although it would be fun to hear a Perl programmer speaking a program using Victor Borge's phonetic punctuation....)

    In short, this article makes the same mistake most articles on user interaction make - it assumes there is some uber-interface, and all other interfaces are inferior. Wrong - speech where speech works, 2D where 2D works, 3D where 3D works, haptic where haptic works, etc. I wouldn't want to drive my car with a joystick, and I wouldn't want to code with a steering wheel.
    • Third, speech is a very low bandwidth output compared to other solutions

      It may be low bandwith but that does not mean it's not a powerful way of communicating. If I can say to my computer, "book me a flight to Miami for the weekend," it sure is a lot more powerful than going to Travelocity's or Yahoo' Travel's sites and make the travel arrangements on my own. That's the main difference between intelligent machines that truly understand natural languages and simple speech recognizers used for dictation and simple commands.
  • by Metrol ( 147060 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @08:18AM (#3489741) Homepage
    A few years ago (actually more than that) on Windows 3.1, Microsoft came out with a voice recognition app. The basic notion of this thing was to allow your voice to control the basic environment. Some of it even kinda worked.

    This eventually got kind of annoying, and I pulled it off that system. I don't regret for a second playing with it. It taught me some valuable lessons about the arena of voice recognition.

    1. I don't want to talk to my computer. You'd have to try this for a while to see for yourself, but the process is exhausting compared to just typing and clicking on stuff.

    2. I never realized how much people tend to slur words used in context, but pronounce them properly by themselves. In the training session where this app learns your voice, I found that I say "Open File" differently when reading it than when I'm just saying it aloud.

    3. Context is critical. For a person to determine the true meaning of words there's all kinds of voice inflection, and body language that needs to be read. I'm not sure I'd want to see a computer that smart!

    Personally, I don't see a huge problem with the whole desktop metaphor interacting with a keyboard anyway. It may have a lot to do with those folks that honestly don't wish to use a computer, they just want a machine to think for them. I would think anyone who does tech support might appreciate what I mean here.

    Bottom line, the only audio I want my computer to ever deal with is music playing in the background.

    • 1. I don't want to talk to my computer. You'd have to try this for a while to see for yourself, but the process is exhausting compared to just typing and clicking on stuff.

      Mac Users have had voice recognition for years, too; I think OS 9 was the first, but X has it too. And I think most Mac Users would agree: every time it's updated, we go "oh, shiny!", use it for 2 weeks, and then never activate it again. It's not for lack of power or reliability: I can basically do anything with my voice that I could do with my mouse (although not with the keyboard) and it successfully recognizes my command about 80% of the time. You can even play the chess game bundled in OS X with it. However, it is tedious. And slow, even if it works at the speed of our spoken voice. And we all find this: I don't think you would walk into a Mac lab and all of a sudden hear Mac Users all speaking to their computer.

      Now is when another Mac User will come on and say that *he uses it only*, etc, and there must be a reason that Apple continues to update it instead of let it drop. But I work with and support Mac Users, and nobody I know uses it, regularly.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @08:20AM (#3489746) Homepage
    Would anyone seriously consider trying to build a voice-operated piano? Simply dictate into it the notes you want it to play... Of course not, everyone realizes the bandwidth of brain-to-fingers-to-keyboard is much higher.

    So why the "voice command" fantasy in the first place?

    When the PC revolution was just starting to take off, most people had not learned to type in high school. Typing was considered a skill for secretaries, who, of course, were poorly paid, low in social rank, and referred to as "girls."

    For many years, computer technology did not penetrate the higher corporate levels because directly handling machines was considered beneath the dignity of an executive. "I don't have time to learn to use that gear, I have people to do that for me," was the typical attitude. Execs would have their secretaries print out all their email for them, dictate replies, and have their secretaries keyboard them back in.

    This changed when the young MBA's started arriving with their computer spreadsheets.

    Most people, even wealthy people who can afford chauffeurs, drive their own cars, and most people now operate their own computers... Time to retire the whole "voice interface" concept, except for people with special needss.

  • At least in the tiniest of form in my house. I wired two older PII 400mhz boxes up and loaded in some voice recognition software, a text to speech program, and various other programs that control stuff that I have hooked up to the machines. Currently I have a few lights, and cable TV running through it. I can get the machines to turn lights on and off, Turn the TV on and off, change channels, record programs, play back programs, I can also get limited control over the computers themself. But the voice interface is really clunky for doing serious work
  • The great thing about widespread voice recognition use is the chance that it could improve the speaking skills of all the humans who have to use it.

    Imagine walking down the street, and hearing everyone speaking in perfectly enunciated, grammatically flawless English.
  • "Never" is a very wrong word in the computing world.
  • Arguments proving something wont or cant happen are silly, because it takes one counter example to prove them wrong. The only execption are well established laws of physics such as the speed of light.

    I think a good audio interface will definitely beat text & graphics interfaces. Look at the history of news. Something like 2/3rds of the news is conveyed through TV and 1/3rd through print (and half the US public seems uninterested and ignorant anyways). The operational word is "good" interface. Humans have amazing verbal abilities that computers have barely touched. But they will ten of firty years from now. So it is just a matter of time.
  • You're saying HAL won't exist because of the advantages of a keyboard and monitor. But you forget one thing:

    HAL was designed for use in a working environment.

    David Bowman and Frank Poole had other things to worry about without also having to type and read text. The thing that comes first to my mind is the use of the EVA pods. Their hands are already on the controls, their eyes are on their work and the numerous other sources of visual information from within the pod itself, and you think that adding yet another button is going to be easier than "Open the pod bay doors, please?"
  • Speech Recognition (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mbbac ( 568880 )
    Speech recognition is like a CLI for people without fingers. It will never take over as the primary interface between humans and computers.

    Most of us here are fairly comfortable with a CLI, because we know the commands to use. However, we're in the vast minority.

    We've already advanced past the CLI, past using command keywords towards using visually intuitive interfaces. Speech recognition would be even worse than going back to using CLIs as the primary interface, because I know most people can type rm ~/foo/blah.js faster than tey can speak it to a computer. Probably even more people can just drag the icon for the file to the trash can even faster.

    However, where speech recognition can be useful is in dictation.
  • I have a voice control system for my home automation and my car-stereo (autopc) and I use the voice system very little and use the keypad or buttons. Why? it's faster and takes less effort to just press the button to select a fm station instead of saying "autopc, fm, preset, 6" and it takes less time to press my away button on the lcd instead of saying "jeeves, set, mode, away"

    voice recognition is better today but it is still horribly crappy. the computer cannot regulary distinguish human speech (espically english) or how we are contantly modifying our speech and commands.. a human understands that "I'm leaving now","See you later!", and "Set to away mode" to be the same thing. the computer doesnt, and cant understand you if you yell, have a cold, or the nise of the kids is higher then normal. until they can create a speech recognition engine that has the abilities of a human with an IQ of around 50 it will be useless.

    speech response on the otherhand I use all the time. I prefer to be told the number of voice and email messages when I enter the house, to hear the over-speed alert from the car stereo, and to hear confirmation in a human-esque voice.
  • are just plain bunk.

    Everyone knows that the interface we most desire would have BOTH visual and audio. The ability to analize an image and understand it and then describe it textually and to take a textual description and display it visually.

    We want hands-free interaction in all it's forms.

    I want a retinal implant or pair of glasses which can display information fed to me via a at the same time I am fed audio information through an earpiece/implant which I can sub-vocalize commands to. A compltely interactive interface which is non-obtrusive to my daily life.

    Is that too much to ask?
  • Star Trek (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tedrlord ( 95173 )
    I think the real answer to this, as with many things in life, lies in Star Trek. They have a pretty good blend of visual and speech interfaces for computers. When giving the computer a command or trying to explain something to it, the easiest method is speech. When they need to get the real work done, though, they always go back to the visual LCARS interface. That seems like it will be the most likely outcome.
  • "he says"

    Talk about how talking impairs thinking.

  • I don't think that's totaly true. There is a huge use for voice use in smaller machines like phones, and in 'non-computer' things like cars or homes when you might just want to change a setting that dosn't need a information display to show you the change, for example if you say "turn of the lights" you don't need a message box that say "lights: 40%"
  • My argument has always been that language systems that use only language are stuck in a loop (i.e. words defined in terms of other words, defined in terms of other words, ad infinitum). These systems can do a lot, but have no true understanding of words.

    As part of my dissertation research [], I am building a Java-based system called E.B.L.A. (experience-based language acquisition), which allows a computer to learn language based on experiences that are grounded in perception using a computer vision system.

    Of course having experiences grounded only in visual perception is a limitation, but it is a start.

  • That's my own quote --I think-- but it was one of the major themes of Big J. Derrida's book White Mythology which was one of his more important works. In it, he gave a number of convincing arguments to the effect that text preceeds speech or that speech was something like a metaphor of text. The notion that speech came before text could be found in writings going back to the Greeks, but Derrida switched it around and presented the whole thing as a deconstruction of western civilization, christianity and knowledge. Rather heavy stuff, but fun when you're a kid.
    Anyhow, I thought I'd point out that this had already been concluded in other elements of academia --yep, that's what they do over there in the English dept. Hey, English is a programming language too after all. Look at Smalltalk if you don't believe it.
    Anyhow, speech being the little brother of text doesn't necessarily mean that talking computers will never exist. I agree with those who say a combo plate is usually a good bargain. We need to look to the next level rather than battling one sense against another over what the best I/O channel is. I'm talking about total sensory immersion. Hal didn't have jack shit to offer the crew compared to the holodeck. I mean come on, playing chess and you had to move the pieces for him with your hand? That aint going to cut it for entertainment these days.
  • O Female Starship Enterprise Voice!
    The Silken Strains of your Status Report
    And error messages, long and short
    Cannot exist; we have no choice

    But to point and click, to touch and stroke
    Plasma Displays that explode under fire.
    Or when tempest-tossed by space/time dire
    Make extra low-rank bridge crew croak --

    What cruelty! Oh proud Science, how could you
    Leave the future so truncated, without
    Considering an old trekkie's doubt
    of limits to what we can do?

    For if our starships don't even talk to us,
    Could we ever discover warp-speed, thus?
  • Your C code:

    for(;P("\n"),R-;P("|"))for(e=C;e-;P("_"+(*u++/8) %2 ))P("|"+(*u/4)%2);

    Your IDE "hears":

    "for left paren semi colon capital pee left paren open quote back slash enn close quote right paren comma capital are minus semi colon capital pee left paren open quote binary or operator close quote right paren right paren for left paren..." (at this point the speaker and typist both die of either old age or exhaustion)

    So, I figure that as one of them code-monkey sorts, I'm not gonna' figure on losing my keyboard anytime soon.

    ps, the code was of course lifted from the "CREATORS ADMIT UNIX, C HOAX" joke text
  • Materialism can never offer a satisfactory explanation of the world.
    For every attempt at an explanation must begin with the formation
    of thoughts about the phenomena of the world.

    Materialism thus begins with the thought of matter or material processes.
    But, in doing so, it is already confronted by two different sets of facts:
    the material world, and the thoughts about it.

    The materialist seeks to make these latter intelligible by regarding
    them as purely material processes. He believes that thinking takes place
    in the brain, much in the same way that digestion takes place in the animal

    Just as he attributes mechanical and organic effects to matter, so he
    credits matter in certain circumstances with the capacity to think.

    He overlooks that, in doing so, he is merely shifting the problem from
    one place to another. He ascribes the power of thinking to matter
    instead of to himself.

    And thus he is back again at his starting point. How does matter come
    to think about its own nature? Why is it not simply satisfied with
    itself and content just to exist?

    The materialist has turned his attention away from the definite subject,
    his own I, and has arrived at an image of something quite vague and
    indefinite. Here the old riddle meets him again.

    The materialistic conception cannot solve the problem;
    it can only shift it from one place to another.

    (Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 2 []) . tml

Do not underestimate the value of print statements for debugging.