Okay, Google


My favorite scene in Star Trek IV is when Scotty tries to use the computer in the 1980s. When he's told he must use the mouse, he responds, "how quaint", and then proceeds to try speaking into the mouse for the computer to respond. With the advent of Siri on iOS and voice recognition on Android, it's beginning to feel like the voice interface portrayed in Star Trek isn't too far away.

But it's not here just yet.

I set up my Nexus 7 tablet with the most recent tools from Google (technically, they're not yet available for the Nexus 7, but I'm a nerd, so I was able to find a way). I set my now always-responsive tablet on the window ledge in my office, just out of reach but in easy earshot. I went through the entire day, trying to use the tablet as often as possible without touching it. I discovered a few things:

  • Google is really good at giving certain types of feedback. If I asked about the time in London, the current weather or the stock price of a popular stock, I'd get a visual response along with a voice telling me the answer.

  • Outside that small list of things Google is really good at answering, it doesn't do anything more than give search results on the tablet. I was hoping for something like, "would you like me to read you the most popular search result?" But alas, it didn't even audibly tell me it heard my question.

  • Sending texts and e-mail messages is possible, but frustrating and scary. If you've ever tried to use voice calling with a Bluetooth headset, you've probably had the awkward experience of your phone accidentally trying to call an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend instead of calling the plumber. If you're lucky, you can stop it before it rings on their end, but thanks to caller ID, you're likely in for a very uncomfortable followup call. I found Google's voice-based messaging more cautious than my Bluetooth headset, but still potentially bad. This is especially true because the tablet was across the room, making it hard to dive and press cancel.

So, although we may not be to the point where we can ask Jarvis to order us a pizza while we're flying around in an Ironman suit, we're definitely taking a step in the right direction. The advent of Google Glass will make verbal commands more and more common. Even if you hate Google Glass, you can rejoice in the voice interface improvements it doubtlessly will cause.

Is voice interface more than a novelty for you? Do you successfully send messages to people on a regular basis by dictating only to your smart device? Did you think Star Trek IV was awesome too? I'd love to get feedback on your thoughts concerning voice interfaces, Google Glass and the future of interfaces in general. Send me an e-mail at ljeditor@linuxjournal.com. I, for one, look forward to my first cranial implant. (I'd like to wait for version 1.1 though—nobody wants a buggy brain implant!)


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.


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I hate voice commands

Carbonsink's picture

With a voice interface, everyone in the room knows what you're up to.


Anonymous's picture

I wonder what the state of the art in language recognition would be if Dragon Naturally Speaking didn't go through that whole Goldman Sachs thing.

Okay, LJ

Tacra's picture

Right now, voice is a bit of a novelty though it will eventually become very usable. Though by then it might not be used at all. I have to believe that once computing power becomes that good in portable devices we won't likely be speaking with our vocal cords to each other or to computers. I suspect we'll have computers implanted and thought will drive them. We'll probably "talk" to each other using thought and radio waves.

As for Star Trek IV, one of the best movies they've ever done but the scene isn't quite as you described it. Scotty, as Professor Scott from the University of Edinburgh, sits down in front of the computer. Speaks to it. Bones hands Scotty the mouse and he says, "Hello, computer." Dr. Nickles then tells him to just use the keyboard. And a bunch of key punches(too hard on the keys) later and we have the formula for transparent aluminum.

I just wish Paramount had done Diane Duane's Dark Mirror as a movie. That would have rocked.