Talk to Me How Voice Computing Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Think by James Vlahos

Review From User :

Really interesting and very good book on the voice recognition and AI development.

Last year I interviewed for a job (that I didn't get) where one of the questions that was asked of me was "What technology developments do you follow" My response was user interface. Specifically how a user interacts with computer applications and the hardware. For the last 10-12 years of my professional life, I have been working with a speech recognition interactive voice response applications. Basically the answering machines that you don't really want to talk to at all. Most callers want to talk to a human. And in the beginning you could always tell you were talking to a machine or more specifically, a recorded voice. Voice recognition was leading edge. It replace the old "for billing issues, press 1, for technical support, press 2" aka DTMF input (digital tones). Back in those days being able to say what you wanted rather than pressing a number on your telephone was huge. Voice recognition and the way that the computer application went about deciphering what you wanted based on what you said was rudimentary at best. It asked leading questions and your answer needed to be on a list of designated responses said in a way that the machine could interpret or else it could not direct you to an appropriate place. Needless to say, this is pretty antiquated by the standards of today.

Talk to me is an excellent primer for voice recognition technology and much more. The philosophy of user interface technology today is basically that voice is the most user friendly way for humans to interact with technology. It's easier to say what you are trying to do than to type it or even to point and click. Vlahos goes into detail about the state of voice technology today and where it is going and some of the pitfalls and dangers to be aware of. Speech recognition is a very small niche compared to what is going on in this day and age. Since the beginning, the idea has always been to have a machine that is conversational. The technical term is "naturally speaking". The idea behind it is to not have to lead the conversation, but to be able to engage a user in a conversation and respond accordingly. This idea is well beyond user input and goes into the realm of artificial intelligence. In order to hold a conversation with a human, the application must be able to learn and interpret. Until roughly 2015, "naturally speaking" was a concept. It's now a reality. I know people are thinking that Siri with apple has been around since 2011, but Siri back then was basically voice recognition with an extremely huge list of possible responses and action that could be taken associated with each response. In 2015 there became a new concept in coding that allowed the speech recognition app to learn using layers of various other applications to provide insight as to determining what was wanted and how to respond (this is of course a fantastically huge generalization of the complexity etc of the operation). Basically with the reality of "naturally speaking" voice recognition came the ability to use voice as a form of user interface with a computer. That created voice activated appliances that can access the internet for a variety of information and tools that can be used to make your life more bearable. Enter Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant, along with a former leading edge now follower application, Siri. With these new applications and machines and appliances comes mo' problems. There are oodles of things but chief among them are privacy considerations or lack there of the minute you start using them. And guess what From a behavioral study, humans that interact conversationally with a machine are far more honest and more importantly forthcoming with a machine that is taking that information and passing it on to its "master" to do whatever they want with it. It's too easy to talk to a machine. It's just as easy to forget it is there while it picks up all the conversations in the room waiting for you to say the right words to activate it. But it is still amassing data. It's a mess. Add to that the fact that to be conversational, these machines have to learn. THEY ARE LEARNING!!! Keep in mind that in the past, the military tended to promote innovative ideas as "necessity is the mother of invention". In the 21st century, consumers and the desire to create consumption is driving technology. Corporations are where the innovation is coming from. These developments aren't for the advancement of science and technology, but to drive up and commoditize consumption. Pursuit of more wealth. Honestly, we are quite far from Skynet. I don't think malevolent machines will eradicate mankind. I am in the near future far more concerned for the amount of information being collected and how it will be used in the future.

The book was a history of voice recognition and of AI technology. Vlahos lands where we are today with the personal assistant technology (Amazon and Google). Vlahos also goes into the downsides of the near future developments in the industry and the final chapter really explains how and why he is so invested in this technology. Immortality. The psychological aspects of this technology are also explored and it's fascinating (to me user interface has always been of interest. It combines the behavioral science with the technological science). You would be surprised and should be wary of how comfortable and easy it is to fall into a habit of communicating with a machine. The unintended but in my view inevitable results of so much sharing is inescapable. Privacy really is something that we are losing at breakneck speeds and we don't even notice. All for a little more ease and convenience. It was right up my geek alley. I thought the book was excellent. Ideal for both the slightly computer literate to the person that understands technology but may not work in the niche. Vlahos lays it out in simply, gives a history and the current state. He is a proponent of the technology. He doesn't want people to fear it, he wants people to be mindful of the implications but continue progressing. I agreecautiously.

PS: There is much more to the book than what I have written. Pick this up if you have an interest in the technology or use the voice applications like Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Home (Assistant), or Apple (Siri), or Microsoft (Cortana), or Samsung (Bixby) or any of the ever increasing voice apps on the public internet (including facebook, twitter, instagram etc)...

4.5 Stars

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