Talking to the TV

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Farhad Manjoo, "Apple Doesn't Need To Make the TV of the Future: The revolution is already here—and it's called the Xbox", Slate 3/27/2012.

If the rumors are true, Apple will release a television set later this year that it will tout as the most amazing boob tube ever invented.

The biggest selling point will be Apple's promise to make navigating our viewing choices easier. Say you want to watch Tower Heist on a Saturday night. You'd first check Netflix, because if it's there, it'll be streamed free for members. If it's not, and if you subscribe to Amazon's Prime service, you ought to check there, because you might get a discount. If that fails, you'll look for the movie on iTunes, Hulu Plus, or Comcast in whatever order is most convenient for you. The whole process is a frustrating mess, one that Apple will likely try to solve by building a cross-platform search engine into its TV. Instead of going to every service separately, you'll just say, "Hey TV, I'd like to watch Tower Heist!" and the screen will show you where the flick is playing, and for how much. You'll just have to choose one and press Play.

When CEO Tim Cook shows off Apple's TV set this fall, I bet he'll call voice-activated universal search a revolutionary way to interact with your television. What Cook probably won't mention is that it already exists. Indeed, much of what Apple is likely to build into its TV is available today on a gadget whose interface is just as easy to use as anything Apple will cook up. The device is called the Xbox 360.

Over the last few months, Microsoft has turned its video-game console into your TV's best friend.

Rich Jaroslovsky, "Apple TV offers hints at Jobs's vision for our living rooms", Washington Post 3/29/2012:

All but lost amid the hoopla of its latest iPad, Apple also released a new version of Apple TV, the $99 streaming-video set-top box that the late Steve Jobs used to call "a hobby." […]

My main beef with the interface, one that will have to be solved in any fully integrated Apple set, was the painful search process when using the included three-button remote control.

It required me to laboriously enter my search term by scrolling through a grid of letters, choosing one at a time, until what I was looking for showed up on an ever-changing list of possible matches.

The process is much easier if you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and download Apple's free Remote app, which lets you simply type your query on your device. But not every viewer of an Apple-branded set might have an Apple mobile device — or have it handy.

What if you could simply tell your TV what you wanted to watch, and it understood and fetched it? The technology already exists in Siri, the iPhone 4S virtual assistant. Implementing it in a future Apple-branded television would eliminate the current complications without the need for a full-scale keyboard, …

Wilson Rothman, "Xbox pre-emptively strikes at Apple iTV with Comcast, HBO, MLB", MSNBC:

Tuesday, Microsoft's pre-emptive strike against Apple surged with the promised addition of streamed Comcast, HBO and Major League Baseball content.

OK, so why am I so breathless over this? Because not only does the Xbox+Kinect media interface, out since last December, establish a technological precedent for usable voice and gesture TV control, but its search function sniffs through all of your high-value content — from Netflix to Comcast — and lists all options at once. I search for "30 Rock" and see every instance of where and when I can watch it, on any of my compatible services.

Natasha Singer, "The Human Voice, as Game Changer", NYT 3/31/2012:

VLAD SEJNOHA is talking to the TV again.

O.K., maybe you've done that, too. But here's the weird thing: His TV is listening.

"Dragon TV," Mr. Sejnoha says to the screen, "find movies with Meryl Streep." Up pops a list of films like "Out of Africa" and "It's Complicated."

"Dragon TV, change to CNN," he says. Presto — the channel flips to CNN.

Mr. Sejnoha is sitting in what looks like a living room but is, in fact, a sort of laboratory inside Nuance Communications, the leading force in voice technology, and the speech-recognition engine behind Siri, the virtual personal assistant on the Apple iPhone 4S.

Here, Mr. Sejnoha, the company's chief technology officer, and other executives are plotting a voice-enabled future where human speech brings responses from not only smartphones and televisions, cars and computers, but also coffee makers, refrigerators, thermostats, alarm systems and other smart devices and appliances.

It is a wildly disruptive idea. But such systems are already beginning to change the way we interact with the world and, for better and worse, how we think about technology. Until now, after all, we've talked only to one another. What if we begin talking to all sorts of machines, too — and, like Siri, those machines respond as if they were human?

"Spansion Announces Partnership with Nuance to Accelerate Voice Recognition Innovation for the Embedded Market", Press Release 3/21/2012:

Spansion Inc.  today announced a partnership with Nuance Communications Inc.  to accelerate voice recognition innovation for embedded technologies. As leading innovators of semiconductor products and voice recognition respectively, Spansion and Nuance are working together on enhancing the responsiveness and quality of voice recognition for embedded solutions addressing the automotive, gaming and consumer electronics applications.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Something is happening here.

The technological part of this has already happened. It's partly that gradual improvements in speech and language technology have passed a threshold — though this happened some time ago. It's partly that Moore's law has made processors and memory small enough and cheap enough that you can easily outfit a mobile phone with the power of a 2000-era high-end PC — and you can do the same with a coffee-maker or a refrigerator, if you can think of anything for them to compute.  And it's partly that everything is networked, so that information and  computation can be shared with back-end servers at will.

(Steerable microphone arrays and source-separation algorithms are part of the picture as well — but again, this is old technology, made increasingly accessible by Moore's Law.)

The social part of all this mostly hasn't happened yet. And as Yogi Berra told us, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

Talking to the TV seems like a no-brainer. It remains to be seen whether and when the public at large will start using this routinely, but an increasing proportion will have the chance to try. It should help that current entertainment-center control systems seem to have emerged from a tenuous cease-fire imposed on warring tribes of push-button salemen.

Hands-free, eyes-free device control in automobiles seems like another no-brainer. People were developing potential products of this kind at Bell Labs when I worked there in the 1980s — the automobile environment offers plenty of electricity, plenty of space, and a reasonable tolerance for costs, so it ought to have been an early success for these technologies. What's different now? Improved speech technology, more powerful embedded systems, and especially ubiquitous wireless networking. However, it still remains to be seen whether the current efforts at Ford and GM and the rest will make talking to your car a routine function for most of us.

There's still some resistance to overcome, and it's not all cultural conservatism. Heesn Wee, "Searching for speech technology's holy grail", CNBC 3/30/2012:

Telephone your credit-card company, health insurer or just about any big consumer-facing company, then speak into the receiver: for new accounts, say "new"; or billing, say "billing." Forget it. You shout and stumble through the phone maze and often land at the directory's start.

Recognize this experience? Somehow, voice recognition — despite some of technology's most awesome achievements (tablets! the remote control!) — remains an anathema. We still can't talk to computers like Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The same article quotes Bill Meisel (who is the editor of Speech Strategy News, and thus hardly disinterested) to the effect that "voice technology will revolutionize the tech ecosystem the way graphical user interface forever changed personal computing". I hope so — but Bill Gates was saying similar things 15 years ago. A cynic might adapt various wits' observations about fusion power and about Brazil, and suggest that voice technology will always be the interface of the future.

Let me make it clear that I think the relevant technologies are now good enough to support Star Trek Communicator-level interactions with home entertainment systems. When this possibility will become reality — or indeed whether Microsoft has already achieved it with the Xbox + Kinect system — is less clear to me.

The designers and developers and marketers working in this area have my best wishes for success. But what interests me most, these days, is the opportunity that the development of these technologies offers for approaching the sciences of speech and language in new ways. As I wrote in a 2010 obituary for Fred Jelinek in the journal Computational Linguistics,

Independent of their value in practical applications, the algorithms developed by the process that Fred Jelinek pioneered offer marvelous new tools for scientists. Applying these tools to the vast stores of digital speech and text now becoming available, we can observe linguistic patterns in space, time, and cultural context, on a scale many orders of magnitude greater than in the past, and simultaneously in much greater detail. Rather than evoking the impact of particle accelerators, as the ALPAC report did, it may be more appropriate to compare these tools to the invention of the microscope and telescope in the 17th century: Everywhere we look, there are interesting patterns previously unseen.



32 Comments

  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    myl: And as Yogi Berra told us, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

    Actually it was Niels Bohr. But the misattribution of such sayings to Yogi Berra (or Sam Goldwyn) is… well, something that deserves a name of its own.

  2. Martin J Ball said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 9:18 am

    Do we assume this whole story is something to do with today's date …?

  3. The Ridger said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    Talking to the television is one thing. But particularly with the new "open office" design sweeping the country, a roomful of people talking to their computers? Yikes!

    [(myl) Well, a lot of them are already talking to other people on the phone. And the obvious defense is noise-cancelling headphones (or noise-cancelling sound fields aimed at an individual's ears by image-processing of a video feed…). But in fact individual interaction with office machines is one of the last places where I'd expect to see voice input widely adopted — high-quality dictation software has been available for years, and its use is now largely limited to people with RSI or other relevant disabilities, at least in my experience.]

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    @Coby Lubliner: I've attributed that saying to Bohr a number of times. But now that you mention it, do you have a citation? I can't find one.

  5. C Thornett said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 10:16 am

    When I'm snarling at a lame-brained politician who is either lying through his teeth or spouting utter tom-foolery,* will this wonderful technology deliver a slapped hand or kick up the backside for me? Or even switch off and offer me a blood pressure test instead?

    *Such as recommending that people hoard fuel at home for a shortage which did not exist until he created it.

  6. Garrett Wollman said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    I've always detested inanimate objects that expect you to talk to them, and I don't think this is any different. Nor do I think I'm alone — but perhaps the next generation, which has grown up with speech recognition technology, will feel differently.

  7. Rod Johnson said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 11:28 am

    @Jerry: here is a useful disquisition on the quote. Bohr actuslly claimed to have taken it from someone else, with whom it was also not original, etc. etc. It was probably ultimately Aristophanes or some other ancient wit.

    [(myl) Anyone who likes this sort of thing should be sure to read Robert Merton's On the Shoulders of Giants, which devotes about 350 pages to exploring the true origins of Newton's aphorism 'If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.']

  8. Soris said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 11:48 am

    Noise-cancelling headphones are useless for blocking out people talking. They remove constant background noise, like fans and engines, very effectively; but unpredictable sounds, like music and speech, are only slightly muffled at best.

    [(myl) According both to theory and to my own personal experience, this is false. As a matter of theory, active noise control is better at cancelling low frequencies than at cancelling high frequencies; but the spectrum of speech is basically 1/F, so that low frequencies predominate. And passive noise control (e.g. by fitted headphones) works better for high frequencies.

    As for personal experience, just a few days ago, I was in an airport waiting area, trying to read while enduring a long, loud cell phone conversation 10 feet away. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones made a substantial difference in the perceived sound level of the conversation, enough of a difference to prevent distraction. There are obviously limits, but reduction of the annoyance factor for ambient conversations seems to work fairly well.]

  9. Ellen K. said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

    @Martin J Ball: I haven't actually read this whole post, but, realizing what day today is, I did check out the first story quoted and linked. It's a genuine link, to an article posted on the 27th.

  10. mollymooly said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    @Coby Lubliner:

    But the misattribution of such sayings to Yogi Berra (or Sam Goldwyn) is… well, something that deserves a name of its own.

    Such people are called "quote magnets" by Fred Shapiro and Urban Dictionary.

  11. Dan Lufkin said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

    @ Garrett W. — A good working definition of an inanimate object is that it has no capability of "expectation." It's just a microphone connected to a digitizer and an enormous cache of sound patterns with an elaborate statistical algorithm to select the most appropriate interpretation of a 3-4 second string of signals. Once you get over the uncanny valley (q.G.) feeling, speech recognition is pure liberation.

    Age has nothing to do with it. I'm probably two-sigma senior to the average LL denizen and I've been using Dragon for around 15 years, so I was reasonably mature when I took it up. Now I couldn't work without it and I dare predict (Yogi/Niels notwithstanding) that after a week's trial, you'd feel the same.

    Speech recognition is a lot like Google Translate, easy and satisfying to make fun of, but a mighty impressive milestone in applied linguistics.

  12. Jocelyn Penny Small said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    As for the Bohr/Berra/Mayer quotation, the Yale Book of Quotations (ed. by Fred R. Shapiro, 2006, p. 92, s.v. Bohr No. 2) — you all do remember print, don't you? — appends the following comment: "Attributed in Mark Kac, "Statistics" (1975). Kac states that this saying may have been "an old Danish proverb." K. K. Steincke, Goodbye and Thanks (1948), quotes it as a pun used in the Danish parliament in the late 1930s."

    Hence the quotation may have actually been said by Bohr or have been "attracted to" his name as the most likely famous person (a Dane) to have said it.

    Finally, the Yale Book of Quotations gives the following wording: "It is difficult to predict, especially the future."

  13. Adrian said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

    "boob tube"? really?

  14. Aaron Toivo said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

    And what about people like me, who overwhelmingly prefer to use text or other non-oral means to communicate not only with devices, but also with other people? That's not cultural conservatism, that's being a socially awkward person. Text-based means of communication have provided those of us who have this trouble with a fantastic improvement in quality of life, and the prospect of having this taken away again is frightening to say the least.

    [(myl) I'm not aware that anyone is planning to take anything away from you. If for no other reason, the needs of people who can't speak will require text or GUI-based interfaces forever.]

  15. Ken Brown said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

    Adrian, here in England a boob tube is an item of clothing.

    As for needing help to find the exact TV programme I want to watch, why? Boring old remote controls already work well. And the view-again system means I can look at pretty much anything recently broadcast.

    And what I really want from my 200-channel cable TV at 3am is a way to find programs I didn't know I wanted to watch and wouldn't have searched for. I want to browse, not jump straight to something.

  16. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

    @Rod: Thanks, the connection to Storm Petersen was helpful, though now that means I have two names with no citation for either.

    @Jocelyn Penny Small: Thanks, though the Yale Book of Quotations is available on line, I somehow missed that. What Kac (pronounced "Katz", as some here know and some may be interested to know) wrote was, "There is a saying, attributed to Niels Bohr but apparently an old Danish proverb, that it is difficult to predict, especially about the future." So he didn't attribute it to Bohr; he said other people did. (You can see it here.)

    The only earlier attribution to Bohr I could find is this, from the physicist Alan G. Mencher in 1971.

    With the help of Rod Johnson's hint, I found that in 1971, the physicist Victor Weisskopf (a protégé of Bohr, according to this) said, "…I would like to quote the Danish writer Storm-Petersen who said that prediction is a very difficult art, especially when it is applied to the future." (See this.) I wonder whether Weisskopf heard Bohr quote it (or somebody heard Weisskopf, put "physicist" and "Danish" together, and came up with "Bohr"?).

    This is enough, but one more: "Storm P. var en klog mand, og noget af det klogeste han har sagt er selvfølgelig, at det er svært at spå, især om fremtiden." Google Translate: "Storm P. was a wise man, and some of the best things he has said is of course that it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."

  17. Rod Johnson said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

    OK, Bohr attributed it to the Danish cartoonist Robert Storm Petersen. However, Bohr and Petersen's source is likely some Danish MP in the 1930s, who in turn was supposedly quoting the Swiss theologian Markus M. Ronner. The problem, however, is that Ronner was born in 1938, so… you see the difficulty. The historical sources of quotations are hard to establish, especially from the future.

    More here and here and here.

  18. ella said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

    One point, that I don't *think* has been made, is that the comparison between voice recognition algorithms that are meant to _be trained_ to work with a single individual or small group of individuals (as with Dragon NS), and algorithms that are meant to work for a near infinite group of individuals (as with call routing systems) is unfair; and generally an apples and oranges comparison.

    Dragon and similar platforms that are intended for use by a limited number of dedicated users (almost always) have the capacity to be trained to the user's idiolect, so that after the first X hours of training, your recognition levels *ought* to be quite high, and easily correctible if an error occurs.

    Systems like call-routing systems that are meant to work with 'anyone' still often return a high error rate, especially in systems where the number of possible responses is high.

    I no longer work in the industry, so I don't know how trainable this particular platform would be, but I should think that at least some trainability should exist. It should also be possible to get the version that corresponds to e.g. AmE even if you happen to buy your hardware somewhere that would ship with e.g. BrE.

    Of course, whatever version ships with something like a DVR-type unit would probably be much less sophisticated than a full version of Dragon (or whatever) but nevertheless probably not comparable to trying to wend your way through call-routing hell. (I *tried* to make them less horrible when I was working with them, I really did!)

    Oh, and @Ken Brown, off the top of my head, one way that voice recognition systems could potentially be useful in navigating a 200-channel-universe is that if you don't necessarily have a specific programme in mind, you could specify a category (e.g. 'Nature Documentary') and limit your results somewhat more gracefully than trying to scroll through drop-down menus.

    Sorry, didn't mean to write an essay!

  19. Gene Callahan said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 11:00 pm

    "high-quality dictation software has been available for years"

    I have tried them regularly, and they were all crap.

  20. Gene Callahan said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

    @Adrian: "really?"

    Really, Adrian, "really?" is the most original thing you can think to contribute here?

  21. Ginger Yellow said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 5:18 am

    As for needing help to find the exact TV programme I want to watch, why? Boring old remote controls already work well.

    Not for watching content on something like an Xbox, AppleTV or even a so-called smart TV with apps. If a film or programme can be located in one of several apps and you don't know which one, trying find it with an ordinary remote is a long and tedious process. The Xbox's universal search is a godsend, and while I haven't got a Kinect, I understand the voice search works quite well with it.

  22. Rod Johnson said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 8:28 am

    Jerry, I swear your comment wasn't there when I wrote mine!

  23. Keith said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

    @Adrian, et al.
    "boob tube"? really?

    Well, yes, really!

    I know that in the UK this can mean what Americans call a "garter top", but the using the term to mean "television set" was also common in the UK when I was growing up there.

    I always thought it came from the word "boob" meaning "mistake, error" and "tube" from "cathode ray tube".

    K.

  24. Richard Hershberger said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

    "high-quality dictation software has been available for years, and its use is now largely limited to people with RSI or other relevant disabilities, at least in my experience."

    My boss, a solo practitioner lawyer, uses dictation software, both for letters and internal case notes. I can always tell, because the error rate is significant. He usually, but not always, edits his letters, but usually not the notes. Usually I can interpret the intent from context, but sometimes the result is unintelligible gibberish. He has offered to buy a license for me, but I have declined. Partly this is because I am so used to composing text via a keyboard and I don't see any great advantage in retraining myself. But it is also partly because I am not persuaded the software is really ready for prime time.

  25. John G said,

    April 2, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

    I think the 'boob' in 'boob tube' means 'stupid person', i.e. it is a mode of entertainment aimed at the witless. 'tube' is clearly a reference to the TV tube of the day of that expression, i.e. the cathode-ray tube.

    I in Canada have never heard of a 'garter top', or of 'boob tube' used for the garment which I can picture quite well. I would call it a 'tube top'. Is 'boob tube' a polite reference to the garment, or a snide or slightly prurient one?

    I know some lawyers who are very happily using voice-recognition software. On the other hand, when I reach a voice-recognition 'service' department by phone, I immediately hit 0 for a live person. It's faster and I stay calmer.

  26. maidhc said,

    April 3, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    I've used the voice recognition SW that comes with Windows 7, which requires a little training, and it seems to work pretty well. Normally I'd prefer to type though.

    I know some people who are happy with the latest version of Dragon too, although I haven't tried it myself..

  27. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    April 5, 2012 @ 1:34 am

    Regarding "boob tube," I used to hear it as a derogatory term for a television, but now the only time I hear the term is when it is used for a tube top. I consider it slightly vulgar, since the word "boob" refers to the breasts enclosed by the clothing. The boob in boob tube was the person who now is a couch potato. I don't know if boob-as-idiot is being used less as boob-for-breast has become more common (I believe I hear boob-as-breast more in casual speech now, and it is used more in some breast cancer promotional material, but I haven't investigated).

    I've never heard the term garter top, FWIW. I'm American and have lived in New York, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, with many side trips to Ohio.

    Regarding voice recognition on television sets, it would be useful for people who haven't mastered the functions of all 50 buttons on the remote. A person who has trouble pushing buttons because of arthritis might want voice recognition, and someone with memory loss might find voice recognition less stressful than trying to remember how to operate a remote.

    Voice commands would be easier than pushing random buttons on the remote, as far as I'm concerned, but the system should be tested with a lot of naive users who aren't good with remotes so that problems are ironed out in advance. There's nothing worse than a voice system that strands users somewhere, as so many phone systems do.

    Beware of the unintended consequences of voice recognition. Remember the video of the disconsolate toddler who wanted to watch Justin Bieber? Now imagine a room with a parent, a screaming toddler, and a voice-activated television trying to respond to a child demanding the latest kiddie film, the voice from the appliance, and the parent trying to shut both the child and the television up.

    Regarding voice recognition in the workplace, I would want to know whether the cost of providing offices where workers could speak without outside noise would offer enough increase in productivity to offset the cost of individual offices or pods, and whether this would vary by field — customer service, yes; graphic design, no, for instance. In addition, readers of advice columns will know that sounds in the workplace, including nail clipping, various bodily noises, crunchy foods and more, are a continuing source of office friction. Soundproofed offices would not only allow voice communication with the computer, they might also increase worker satisfaction by isolating behaviors regarded as offensive by co-workers. And presumably the computer could learn to ignore the sound of belching or potato chip crunching.

  28. Ginger Yellow said,

    April 5, 2012 @ 7:01 am

    Beware of the unintended consequences of voice recognition. Remember the video of the disconsolate toddler who wanted to watch Justin Bieber? Now imagine a room with a parent, a screaming toddler, and a voice-activated television trying to respond to a child demanding the latest kiddie film, the voice from the appliance, and the parent trying to shut both the child and the television up.

    The Xbox/Kinect set-up tries to avoid this problem by requiring users to say "Xbox" before pretty much any command. To search, you say "Xbox, Bing, [search term]". And you can't turn off the machine with voice.

    Obviously you can still have problems if it can't understand what you're saying because of other noise, but it cuts down on random commands.

  29. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    April 5, 2012 @ 10:11 am

    @ Ginger Yellow:

    That was useful information. I didn't know there were cues. On the other hand, the average four-year-old is observant enough to learn to add a couple of words in the command stream to get a voice-activated system to perform. A manual on and off switch might provide more control, but I think my concern is a valid one for consumer applications of voice recognition.

    I understand why someone would not want to talk to an appliance or spend all day speaking at work. But I also think the convenience of being able to tell a machine what to do makes technology more accessible.

    = = = = =
    Going in a different direction, would people learn more about their technology if information was available in recorded form? I am thinking of all the people who don't read the manual for the car or the oven or the new software.

    If you could get in a vehicle, ask how to reset the clock or what the tire pressure should be, and hear a response instead of thumbing through a manual (with a totally inadequate index as my car's manual has), the experience might be better as long as the voice recognition software actually recognizes the query properly along with its many variants. Would having voice-activated operating manuals that respond to spoken questions with spoken answers create better-informed users?

    Would such manuals "learn" what was wanted, too, or would that be too expensive to add? I know I talk to the GPS unit in my car, often with cursing, but of course it doesn't respond. It is also frustrating because the GPS unit doesn't learn routes based on the way I travel to a destination. It often but not always suggests what I consider the wrong route to my mother's house at certain points in the five-hour drive. At other times it is very helpful in steering me around traffic backups on the interstate, but the helpfulness is less frequent than the stupidity.

    I would prefer to see manuals available as written, spoken and perhaps video documents so people with different learning approaches could use what works best for them. I would love to have a video that shows me how to use the various ways to use my cell phone, because the written manual is poorly edited.

    The manual implies, for instance, that it offers directions for routine operations such as saving phone numbers in the address book, but the instructions are inadequate (the text implies the instructions will save the data to the SIM card, but in fact the data is only saved to the phone with those instructions). A video demonstration might have brought the inadequate editing of the print manual to light.

    A further off-topic thought — could speech recognition be used to post student responses in online courseware but also allow such comments to be recorded so students could listen to the comments as though they were in a discussion, whether or not it was taking place at the time? Could such a system allow editing of the voice recording through the keyboard without rerecording? Would such a system stimulate more "classroom" discussion without students being in the physical classroom? Would such features be useful as a replacement for some business meetings, too?

    Sorry, end of off-topic rant and speculation.

  30. Ginger Yellow said,

    April 5, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    . I would love to have a video that shows me how to use the various ways to use my cell phone, because the written manual is poorly edited.

    On this particular issue, there are almost certainly Youtube videos that do this. Maybe not deliberately (though I wouldn't be surprised), but new mobile phones are favourite subjects for unboxing videos which would incorporate a demonstration of basic functionality.

  31. Graeme said,

    April 6, 2012 @ 8:26 am

    We talk to things we imagine as animate.. (Watch young children, with insects or toy animals).

    It's quite a conceptual leap to talk, naturally, to a tv (however complex its menu).

    'Open the pod bay doors HAL' was written 43 years ago, predicting 11 years ago…

  32. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words said,

    April 6, 2012 @ 11:12 am

    […] and journalese. Robert Lane Greene traced the rise of dude. At Language Log, Mark Liberman talked to the TV and took Rush Limbaugh Literalville-ly; Julie Sedivy looked into death by Balzac and grenade-like […]

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