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Note on the Acceleration: Subvocal communications - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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March 12th, 2008


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04:37 pm - Note on the Acceleration: Subvocal communications
Devices that transform thoughts into speech are a standard SF trope, and now an early version exists. The comments in the video-link about later versions being used for thought-based internet queries are especially cool. However, for now hopefully Stephen Hawking will be able to make use of one of these devices, since it looks vastly better than his current options for communication. Given the many uses for private communications, I'm betting cellphone-compatible versions will be fairly common within 5 years. It will be interesting to see how these change communication - we already have people mixing private texting with public conversation, and this device takes it to the next level. Also, the ability to subvocalize a search query and then speak the answer will be very nifty indeed - I'm really looking forward to that particular piece of technology.

With luck, we'll have versions of these built into attractice necklaces, chokers, and torcs. This device might bring back the torc as a style of jewelry - at least until implants start becoming common.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:used_songs
Date:March 13th, 2008 12:14 am (UTC)
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I just saw this on boingboing. My first thought was, How cool! I want one! And my second thought was, This is another technology that will force schools/classrooms to start moving into the current century.
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From:heron61
Date:March 13th, 2008 12:51 am (UTC)
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I hadn't thought of the second implication, but I do expect that in 5 years teens will be using these things as ways to have private conversations, including conversations in school.

One interesting thought is when ubiquitous information search will be recognized in schools and how school will adapt. Calculators have been incorporated into school math for decades (and have thus made math far less drudgery than it used to be). Obviously, the first way of dealing with mobile internet devices will be to drastically restrict their use in school. However, I'm curious to know what it will be like when they are sufficiently common and accepted that they start gaining acceptance. If anyone can learn any fact they can form a useful query for in 15 seconds, what does teaching and learning mean? Rote memorization starts looking a whole lot less useful in such a situation. I have absolutely no idea what the end result will be, but I think it will be absolutely fascinating to see.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:March 13th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
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"Rote memorization starts looking a whole lot less useful in such a situation."


Sorry, but rote memorization in the early grades has a very valuable place. How else do the alphabet, spelling, times tables, and other early basics get learned? It is very sad when someone has to pull out a calculator in order to multiply 2x2.

And what if you're traveling to some remote part of the world without the Internet? Or the power goes out?
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:March 13th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
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Excuse me. I should have said "What if the server goes down?" At my office, it happens way too often.
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From:heron61
Date:March 13th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
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The public internet is less than 20 years old, the wireless internet less than 10. In another no more than 20 years, I'd expect it to be as reliable as landline phone service. Also, it's already possible to download all of wikipedia into a portable drive, and memory gets cheaper and smaller every year. The internet has just barely ceased being a novelty. The big changes are going to start happening when it's as accepted as landline telephones and TV was by the 1970s or 1980s - when its ubiquitous presence is assumed. With WiMax and high speed wireless, we're looking at full coverage of the first world with wireless internet access in a decade.
[User Picture]
From:xuenay
Date:March 14th, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
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Memorization will suffer somewhat, but it still has its uses. You can't suddenly realize that there's a connection between two pieces of information if they're not in your head, available to be combined.
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From:blue_estro
Date:March 13th, 2008 12:26 am (UTC)
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Also, the ability to subvocalize a search query and then speak the answer will be very nifty indeed - I'm really looking forward to that particular piece of technology.

A discussion about how the iPhone has changed casual speculative conversation (the ability to look things up immediately rather than sussing stuff out, working around a potential factual inaccuracy, or possibly risking picking up a crappy movie at the video-store) had a friend and I pretending what it would be like to have internet access embedded in our heads. The make believe was fun (and quite silly), and I oft want to have such ready access to info, but it did seem to be detrimental to the joy of playing with ideas. Some of our best conversations would have been truncated very early by "the internet says you are wrong!" rebuttals.

While I am not horribly worried about such devices ruining my ability to hold creative and speculative conversations (I like thinking, and can be okay with not verifying all statements with an outside source) I am not sure where most people will fall on the using ubiquitous information as a supplement for ingenuity and interacting with their environment. At what point will the main portion of the population spend most of thier time muttering keywords and commands rather than taking small risks an doing stuff?

This is not a reason to stifle technology, I am just looking at the negative affects it could have. And I think I have some precedence for this gloomy outlook: cell-phones.

Cell-phones are the next best thing to a telepathic link to your loved ones... incredibly useful in emergencies, grocery shopping trips, and coordinating social events. But they have really stifled casual interactions with strangers when out and about (try the eye-contact and smiling game: when walking about, see if you can make eye-contact with fellow pedestrians then get them to smile back at you. In my experience eople on cell-phones are less likely to make eye-contact in the first place, much less recognize that you are trying to interact with them. Fortunately, mp3 players have not had this effect while being almost as omnipresent as phone-walkers).
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From:heron61
Date:March 13th, 2008 12:44 am (UTC)
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But they have really stifled casual interactions with strangers when out and about

Interesting, that makes sense but I've never noticed because I've always done my best avoid interacting with strangers. However, I suspect conversation and social interaction will still be prioritized over information searches, and so I think the effect will be considerably less than that of cellphones.

[User Picture]
From:blue_estro
Date:March 13th, 2008 05:35 am (UTC)
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I suspect conversation and social interaction will still be prioritized over information searches

I don't know that prioritization is an issue as one can easily round-robin information accesses in a conversation. I think American culture already has interrupts as acceptable (I find people putting the people they are with on hold to answer an unexpected or non-urgent call infuriating, but it happens regularly). Having the access will drastically change the way we interact, obtain, and exchange knowledge. This is not inherently bad, but given how we seem to behave with new technologies (TV (Radio?) killed American familial interaction, for example), I suspect something special will be lost in exchange for the new utility.

Heh, none of my arguments are meant to suggest that I think this should not exist or that I don't find the concept pretty awesome (I would love to be able to quietly ID a bird or flower while hiking), this is just doom and gloom speculation.
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From:heron61
Date:March 13th, 2008 07:05 am (UTC)
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TV (Radio?) killed American familial interaction, for example)

Really? I see huge numbers of people using TV as background noise (a habit that annoys me no end) and still converse a fair amount. I'm not certain many people enjoy talking at length, and I have no idea of the amounts and lengths of such conversations before before radio. It's clear that TV (and now the internet) has drastically reduced reading novels and short stories, but I'm not certain that the average amount of conversation is much less. If you count chat and cellphones, we may well be in the heyday of conservation, or perhaps the rate is merely roughly constant.
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From:moominmuppet
Date:March 13th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
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I am a background noise person myself, but we also use "pause" a huge amount in our house. TV is mostly a conversation-stimulator. When something interests us, we pause and ramble for a half-hour or so, and then go back to watching.

I barely recall life before DVR.
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From:heron61
Date:March 13th, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
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Same here on all counts (not terribly surprisingly). I still remember when Becca and I watched a show about the Physics of Star Trek in January, it took almost 3 hours to watch a 1 hour show because we spent most of the time on pause, talking about what we'd seen. I'd almost forgotten that this impossible with broadcast TV a decade ago.
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From:blue_estro
Date:March 14th, 2008 07:44 am (UTC)
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I can't dredge up much personal experience as I have not directly interacted much with families in the better part of a decade, but coworkers describing family habits seem to have the common claim that after dinner the kids head to their rooms to watch their programming, while the parent's watch the news and their sitcoms. Contrast this with my parent's childhood which often involved after dinner card-games (which are all about sitting around chatting. My maternal grandparents favored pinochle while my dad's side was all about canasta.)

Along that line, a friend recently commented that all the good board games now come out of Germany because the tv-culture is not so omnipresent and there is still a focus on family activities in the evening.

I could easily be wrong as it is entirely possible that culture is making a slide toward less family cohesiveness and that the multi-television households are a symptom rather than a cause. Or I could have just bought into fictional stories about old family values and that television really hasn't changed anything.

In any case, I don't buy that television is as thoroughly in the background as radio or nothing. While it is possible to keep half an ear on TV, it is more apt to providing distracting interrupts (a funny commercial that suddenly catches ones attention, unexpected plot twist, etc).
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From:heron61
Date:March 14th, 2008 08:03 am (UTC)
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I could easily be wrong as it is entirely possible that culture is making a slide toward less family cohesiveness and that the multi-television households are a symptom rather than a cause.

Given the increasing work hours of even members of the middle and upper middle class and the overall work-focus of the US, and the decline in actual family dinners do to changing (and typically fairly dubious eating habits) the retreat to TV looks to me more like an effect than a cause. If kids get in the habit of watching lots of TV when their parents aren't around much, I can see that habit persisting on the rare occasions that their parents are around.

Also, like you I'm not at all certain what family life was really like circa 1900 or so. I suspect it was a whole lot less Normal Rockwell than any of us imagine, since IME everytime you take time to carefully examine it, life in the past few thousand years sucked a whole lot more than it seemed to at first glance. This is perhaps the most important lesson I've gathered from decades of studying history.
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From:aekiy
Date:March 13th, 2008 04:55 am (UTC)
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::drool:: One of the developments I've been longing for is technological telepathy, with obvious limitations. I would like to be able to select a short list of people with whom I can communicate regularly on encrypted channels and such, but with enough advances I imagine that sort of thing could be regulated similar to a cell phone or instant-messaging system: block some users or only allow certain people to contact you.

I think the pragmatic approach, of developing it as a prosthetic technology, is a good one here. Let it go through some years of use and development until it becomes both streamlined and common enough to enter a consumer market. I do hope they can successfully adapt this thing to recognize an individual's phonemes and reduce the lag time.
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From:heron61
Date:March 13th, 2008 06:59 am (UTC)
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I do hope they can successfully adapt this thing to recognize an individual's phonemes and reduce the lag time.

I have no doubt that will happen, Moore's Law always shrinks lag time and enables more complex programs to work.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:March 13th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
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How can you use a thought-into-speech translator if your mind is racing? I think the nervous, the hurried, and the disorganized among us would have a hard time using the thing.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:March 13th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
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I'm guessing that with many of the thought-controller devices that have been developed, learning some (very) basic meditation techniques will help. Also, this particular device requires you to subvocalize, which is sufficiently distinct from ordinary thought that I don't think most people will have a problem.

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