In the wonderful world of Star Trek, the main computer is frequently accessed through voice commands. At the time, I thought this was amazing and high tech. Fast-forward only a few years later, and I had this very technology in my dorm room.
My parents had an old high-powered stereo system that was never being used, and when I headed off to university, I asked if I could take it. They had no problem with that, but I didn’t have room in my Rambler to fit the two massive speakers and the half-dozen or so Large Metal Boxes that comprised the entertainment center. CD changer, amp, radio tuner, phonograph, tape deck, mystical-box-that-seems-to-do-nothing… there was a lot of machinery there. So I took only the amp, figuring I could use my computer for the rest.
At the time, MP3′s were in their infancy and Napster was still unheard of, but I had a DVD drive (I think I was the only person on campus with a DVD player of any sort at the time, as it would still be another 9 months at least before I was able to find a DVD movie anywhere) so I figured I could use that as my music player. With the advent of SoundJam (the software that would eventually become iTunes), and some MP3 ripping software, we quickly discovered that we could store my whole music collection on my hard drive, and build playlists for the
parties study sessions we would host in our dorm room. Which was lovely, except that my computer was in my bedroom, providing tunes, and any time we wanted to change songs, we had to go across the apartment to the bedroom, wake the computer, change songs, and return. Terribly inconvenient.
While watching Star Trek one afternoon, I wondered if voice commands would be possible. A few pieces of software and some downloaded scripts later, and I had a stereo system that could be commanded by my voice. Even cooler, I found a plugin that would allow the microphone to ignore any sound that was being broadcast by the computer, so even with the music playing, it would understand commands. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure was cool. We ran a simple extension cord for the microphone, and hid it in a central location in the living room. When we wanted to change songs, or even playlists, we just said, “Computer, play playlist ‘Drinking Songs’.”
It served a useful purpose, but more than anything, it was a party trick. And even today, it seems that voice recognition software is largely that: the realm of a cool party trick, but not actually all that useful. My car has speech recognition, as does my computer, my phone, and to a far lesser extent, my cat. None of them work very well, and I find it’s usually easier just to push a button than to try and speak the command. Or, in the case of my cat, spray it with water.
I’m not sure what the tipping point will be, but I have to wonder whether voice commands will really be the way of the future, as Star Trek predicts, or whether it will be something else entirely.
Probably brain-waves. But then most computers will only be usable to find pictures of boobs.