Corante

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Dana Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for over 25 years and has covered the online world professionally since 1985. He founded the "Interactive Age Daily" for CMP Media, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and dozens of other publications over the years.
About this Site
Moore’s Law defines the history of technology. It held that the number of circuits etched on a given piece of silicon could double every 18 months as far as its author, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, could see. Moore’s Law has spawned constant revolutions since then, not just in computing but in communications, in science, in a host of areas. Moore’s Law applies to radios, and to optical fiber, but there are some areas where it doesn’t apply. In this blog we’ll take a daily look at new implications of Moore’s Law in real time, as it rolls forward to create our future.
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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Moore's Lore

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October 13, 2005

Dana's Answer to Jakob's Quest

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Posted by Dana Blankenhorn

voice interface module.jpgOne thing which unites the previous two stories here is that they are both about computer interfaces. (What is this? You'll learn after you click below.)

The iPod is a computer interface, as much as Apple might protest this. The addition of a screen completes the transition from radio to TV, and from storage device to computing device.

Microsoft Office is, if nothing else, a basic user interface.

The Web is a user interface. So is your e-mail system, whether POP3 or Web-based. The cellphone is a UI.

The point is there is more going on in this space than there has been since I first got into this business, over 20 years ago.

Jakob's more right than he knows. The user interface we've used for a long time now is broken. As I've said here many times, a computer is not a TV set, a tape recorder, and a typewriter. The computer is what is in the middle.

Today's mobile interfaces remove one element in that old equation, the typewriter. For a while the iPod eliminated the TV. Now that's back. That may be why I dissed it earlier. In some ways it's a step backward.

The tape recorder has become a hard drive, and in some ways the iPod is a PC giraffe, in that this single feature dominates the others. Instead you have the clickwheel.

On my new cellphone, a Nokia 6610, the keyboard has been reduced to a keypad, 12 keys in the center, four on the sides, and a big one (which can go in several directions) in the middle. Along with the screen, this is designed to replicate the Mac, with the center Joystiq doing the work of the mouse.

It works, but (frankly) it stinks. It takes forever to enter data into it, as with a calendar.

The old Palm interface (which the cellphone replaces) was in many ways more advanced, with its use of a pen and the Graffiti style of writing. My son has become accomplished with Graffiti. I never did.

The point is that, in many ways, we're going backward from the typewriter, looking for some simpler input device, some easier way to work.

What have we ignored?

Voice.(The picture at the top is of a Star Trek voice interface, from the StarTrek FanClub. Silly and clunky, ain't it?)

We should have plenty of memory and storage to create a highly-usable and adaptable voice interface for these new devices, but no one has taken more than a step or two down that road, and those steps have been taken haltingly, grudingly, in a way guaranteed to fail.

The solution, I feel, is to take the voice processing down to a single chip. A voice processor. Complete with interface software. Train it to your voice, and you have security built-in (because it will only respond to its master). Put this on a cellphone, on an iPod, on a Palm-like device, and you have a truly new paradigm.

Why hasn't anyone done this?

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Consumer Electronics | Moore's Lore | computer interfaces


COMMENTS

1. Brad Hutchings on October 13, 2005 03:07 PM writes...

I agree that voice would be a lot better interface for a lot of things, if (big if) it could actually work. Earlier this year, I put an Alpine sound system with direct iPod interface into my gas-guzzling Chevy Blazer. It is an amazing system. And it's probably safer to navigate 3000 songs through the head unit on that thing while I drive than it is by using the iPod's clickwheel. But it's still phenominally clumsy. I typically don't mess with finding an artist or a playlist unless I'm at a long stoplight or in a straight stretch of open road. Voice commands and feedback would be ideal.

But I don't think the problem with voice is technical. The problem is that it's voice. It's got a lot of ambiguity built in. Keyboards, mice, pens, menus, icons, pointers -- all pretty unambiguous. But voice... Just look at the absolute travesty of a call by the home plate umpire at the end of the Angels / White Sox game last night.

People expect their devices to do what they ask them to do, and see misbehavior as a bug requiring a technical fix. But in moving to voice interfaces, devices are necessarily going to be more like people, i.e. not 100% reliable, open to misinterpretation, etc. Are we willing to accept that? My guess, from fiddling with the voice activated dialing on my cell phone and seeing friends fiddle with theirs, is that voice controlled devices may need protection under domestic violence statutes if we decide to go that route.

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2. Mike Weston on October 14, 2005 10:01 AM writes...

The problem with voice is that it's annoying to everyone around you. It's bad enough to listen to people talk on cell phones, but if several people in a restaurant were giving voice commands to their electronic devices, that would just be be hell on Earth.

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3. Jesse Kopelman on October 14, 2005 02:53 PM writes...

I think the challenge is a technical one. To avoid the issues Mike brings up, you need a device that you could speak to conversationally instead of shouting brusk and clearly enunciated commands. To make this happen, the device would have to be able to pick your voice out of many other noises and focus in on it. The technology to do this is pretty much already invented for high performance speach codecs and high quality phone head-sets. It just has to put into a single package that can produced in large volumes for generic inclusion in devices -- I think this what Dana is getting at with his call for voice on a chip.

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4. Anonymous on October 15, 2005 03:12 AM writes...

Let's skip voice and use 'thought reading' as the next interface.

It was before the dawn of de.icio.us, so I can't for the life of me find it right now, but I read on the web about research that placed a 'sensor' somewhere on your neck, and was able to 'hear' what you were 'saying' when you thought aloud in your head. Something to do with the way your brain manipulates your vocal chords when you think about speaking rather than actually talking. You could even use this to talk to other people, if a computer picked up what you were saying, vocalised it into your buddies head phones.

On another note, we currently have a wealth of 'super secret' search start-ups like Spehere and Kozaru trying to add semantics to the usual mix of link and meta data analysis to make searching smarter and more conversational. When these semantic techniques mature sufficiently it may be worth our while in some situations to 'talk' to our tech, as it may understand enough to know when it doesn't understand and then engage you in just enough of a silent in your ear conversation to figure out what it is you actually want, and deliver it, either in your ear if your hands are on the wheel/in your pockets, or on the screen, if you've gone back inside to get something done ;-)

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