Donald Clark writes about the use of voice tech for learning. I find I struggle enormously with voice. While I recognise several aspects put forward in that posting as likely useful in learning settings (auto transcription, text to speech, oral traditions), there are others that remain barriers to adoption to me.

For taking in information as voice. Podcasts are mentioned as a useful tool, but don’t work for me at all. I get distracted after about 30 seconds. The voices drone on, there’s often tons of fluff as the speaker is trying to get to the point (often a lack of preparation I suppose). I don’t have moments in my day I know others use to listen to podcasts: walking the dog, sitting in traffic, going for a run. Reading a transcript is very much faster, also because you get to skip the bits that don’t interest you, or reread sections that do. Which you can’t do when listening, because you don’t know when a uninteresting segment will end, or when it might segue into something of interest. And then you’ve listened to the end and can’t get those lost minutes back. (Videos have the same issue, or rather I have the same issue with videos)

For using voice to ask or control things. There are obvious privacy issues with voice assistants. Having active microphones around for one. Even if they are supposed to only fully activate upon the use of the wake-up word, they get triggered by false positives. And don’t distinguish between me and other people that maybe it shouldn’t respond to. A while ago I asked around in my network how people use their Google and Amazon microphones, and the consensus was that most settle on a small range of specific uses. For those it shouldn’t be needed to have cloud processing of what those microphones tape in your living room, those should be able to be dealt with locally, with only novel questions or instructions being processed in the cloud. (Of course that’s not the business model of these listening devices).

A very different factor in using voice to control things, or for instance dictate is self-consciousness. Switching on a microphone in a meeting has a silencing effect usually. For dictation, I won’t dictate text to software e.g. at a client’s office, or while in public (like on a train). Nor will I talk to my headset while walking down the street. I might do it at home, but only if I know I’m not distracting others around me. In the cases where I did use dictation software (which nowadays works remarkably well), I find it clashes with my thinking and formulation. Ultimately it’s easier for me to shape sentences on paper or screen where I see them take shape in front of me. When dictating it easily descends into meaninglessness, and it’s impossible to structure. Stream of thought dictation is the only bit that works somewhat, but that needs a lot of cleaning up afterwards. Judging by all podcasts I sampled over the years, it is something that happens to more people when confronted with a microphone (see the paragraph above). Maybe if it’s something more prepared like a lecture, or presentation, it might be different, but those types of speech have been prepared in writing usually, so there is likely a written source for it already. In any case, dictation never saved me any time. It is of course very different if you don’t have the use of your hands. Then dictation is your door to the world.

It makes me wonder how voice services are helping you? How is it saving you time or effort? In which cases is it more novelty than effectiveness?

Some things I thought worth reading in the past days

  • A good read on how currently machine learning (ML) merely obfuscates human bias, by moving it to the training data and coding, to arrive at peace of mind from pretend objectivity. Because of claiming that it’s ‘the algorithm deciding’ you make ML a kind of digital alchemy. Introduced some fun terms to me, like fauxtomation, and Potemkin AI: Plausible Disavowal – Why pretend that machines can be creative?
  • These new Google patents show how problematic the current smart home efforts are, including the precursor that are the Alexa and Echo microphones in your house. They are stripping you of agency, not providing it. These particular ones also nudge you to treat your children much the way surveillance capitalism treats you: as a suspect to be watched, relationships denuded of the subtle human capability to trust. Agency only comes from being in full control of your tools. Adding someone else’s tools (here not just Google but your health insurer, your landlord etc) to your home doesn’t make it smart but a self-censorship promoting escape room. A fractal of the panopticon. We need to start designing more technology that is based on distributed use, not on a centralised controller: Google’s New Patents Aim to Make Your Home a Data Mine
  • An excellent article by the NYT about Facebook’s slide to the dark side. When the student dorm room excuse “we didn’t realise, we messed up, but we’ll fix it for the future” defence fails, and you weaponise your own data driven machine against its critics. Thus proving your critics right. Weaponising your own platform isn’t surprising but very sobering and telling. Will it be a tipping point in how the public views FB? Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis
  • Some of these takeaways from the article just mentioned we should keep top of mind when interacting with or talking about Facebook: FB knew very early on about being used to influence the US 2016 election and chose not to act. FB feared backlash from specific user groups and opted to unevenly enforce their terms or service/community guidelines. Cambridge Analytica is not an isolated abuse, but a concrete example of the wider issue. FB weaponised their own platform to oppose criticism: How Facebook Wrestled With Scandal: 6 Key Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation
  • There really is no plausible deniability for FB’s execs on their “in-house fake news shop” : Facebook’s Top Brass Say They Knew Nothing About Definers. Don’t Believe Them. So when you need to admit it, you fall back on the ‘we messed up, we’ll do better going forward’ tactic.
  • As Aral Balkan says, that’s the real issue at hand because “Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have the same business model. If Cambridge Analytica can sway elections and referenda with a relatively small subset of Facebook’s data, imagine what Facebook can and does do with the full set.“: We were warned about Cambridge Analytica. Why didn’t we listen?
  • [update] Apparently all the commotion is causing Zuckerberg to think FB is ‘at war‘, with everyone it seems, which is problematic for a company that has as a mission to open up and connect the world, and which is based on a perception of trust. Also a bunker mentality probably doesn’t bode well for FB’s corporate culture and hence future: Facebook At War.

Some links I thought worth reading the past few days

Jyri Engestrom (Jaiku/Google) just pointed me to the fact that Google has announced a major step into the mobile market. Android is the name of a 34 party strong alliance around an Open Source platform for mobile phones. To converge computing and communication more. (Android originally is a mobile start up bought by Google in 2005.)
Google’s aim is to earn money with advertising on mobile devices. Original rumours were that Google would introduce a GPhone (like Apple’s iPhone). But instead they are enabling everybody in the industry to create their own phones as it were with the Open Handset Alliance.
Jyri summarizes Android’s key points in Twitter as:
* Android does not differentiate between the phone’s core applications and third-party applications. They can all be built to have equal access to a phone’s capabilities
* users will be able to fully tailor the phone to their interests. They can swap out the phone’s homescreen, the style of the dialer, or any of the applications
* a developer can combine information from the web with data on an individual’s mobile phone — such as the user’s contacts, calendar, or geographic location. With Android, a developer could build an application that enables users to view the location of their friends and be alerted when they are in the vicinity giving them a chance to connect.
* allows devices to communicate with one another enabling rich peer-to-peer social applications
This is very interesting news, and I guess last week’s announcement of OpenSocial was not all of it after all.
What I think is key in this news is that Google is creating possibilities for other parties so that they can make money over it doing what they’ve been always doing: search and advertisements. That is both what OpenSocial and Androids is doing for Google. More also on the Google blog.
Also there is this video about Android on the Google Channel on YouTube:

Afterthought: with OpenSocial and Open Handset Alliance / Android, it is also clear that Open will be the new buzz-word for the coming time in webmarketing. I guess that’s good if it helps us to leave the Web2.0, Web3.0, Web x.0 metaphors behind)