Mind / Iron
by Bryan Bergeron, Editor ª Published Monthly By T & L Publications, Inc.
430 Princeland Ct., Corona, CA 92879-1300
FAX (951) 371-3052
Webstore Only 1-800-783-4624
Toll Free 1-877-525-2539
Outside US 1-818-487-4545
P.O. Box 15277, N. Hollywood, CA 91615
VP of OPERATIONS
Tom Carroll Kevin Berry
Dennis Clark R. Steven Rainwater
Gordon McComb Dave Prochnow
Michael Simpson Thomas Henry
Bob Walker Pete Smith
Troy Mock Mike Jeffries
Jeff Eckert Jenn Eckert
Copyright 2014 by
T & L Publications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
All advertising is subject to publisher’s approval.
We are not responsible for mistakes, misprints,
or typographical errors. SERVO Magazine assumes
no responsibility for the availability or condition of
advertised items or for the honesty of the
advertiser. The publisher makes no claims for the
legality of any item advertised in SERVO. This is the
sole responsibility of the advertiser. Advertisers and
their agencies agree to indemnify and protect the
publisher from any and all claims, action, or expense
arising from advertising placed in SERVO. Please
send all editorial correspondence, UPS, overnight
mail, and artwork to: 430 Princeland Court,
Corona, CA 92879.
Printed in the USA on SFI & FSC stock.
ERVO FOR THE ROBOT INNOVATOR
6 SERVO 05.2014
Samantha — Just Another Pretty Voice?
The AI named Samantha in the sci-fi movie, HER is the latest attempt by the
film industry to depict the possibilities of human-computer interaction and
bonding. The concept of human bonding to a computer, robot, or other
machine isn't new — sci-fi writers have been exploring the issue since at least the
early ’50s. Then, there's the classic Eliza psychotherapist program from the ’60s,
and the bonding between user and the ubiquitous cell phone. Still, the film has
value in reminding us of what makes a good computer/robot/phone-human
interface, and what doesn't.
For example, take voice recognition. Seri — perhaps the most popular voice
recognition system in general use — hasn't proven to be the solution to fulfilling
the narcissist's dream of the perfect, ever-available, and ever-attendant
companion. For starters, talking is often inconvenient. Think public
transportation system, nice restaurant, working in a cubicle farm, or a long
boring meeting at work. A few quiet keystrokes would be tolerated by others
where speaking would be practically impossible.
Then, there's the distraction factor of voice interaction. Most workplaces
wouldn't put up with employees in constant phone contact with their significant
others (organic or otherwise) because they're supposed to be focused on work.
Unless you happen to have a job that doesn't rely on real social interaction —
such as the writer in HER — a real Samantha AI would never do.
So, what is the best user interface to computers, robots, cars, and other
intelligent machines? The ultimate interface is — I believe — a direct conduit to
our conscious thought. After all, haven't you ever just wished your mouse-controlled pointer would move to a certain word or radio button by simply
reading your mind? I have. What about the microwave oven? Why repeatedly
punch in the same one minute and 20 seconds to heat a cup of coffee? The
voice recognition interface depicted on Star Trek is inherently flawed. Why ask for
"Earl Grey, Hot?” In the future, the computer interface should determine what
you want without you having to ask.
Of course, the cognitive interfaces currently available to consumers are
maxed out by tasks such as controlling a simple drone, much less knowing what
kind of tea you'd like at the moment. With time, however, such technology is
inevitable. We just need to be sure that what sounds good today will be
worthwhile when we achieve it in the future.
For example, I wouldn't trade a microwave or 3D printer that could read my
mind for a future that provides the government and corporations with access to
my thoughts as in the movie, Minority Report. What about the situation where
there's one TV and two watchers? Does channel selection go to the viewer with
the most focused mind or simply the most stubborn one? And what about the
auto food synthesizer? Does the dinner menu respond to the four year old who
is fully focused on ice cream, or to the adult who is juggling a dozen other
decisions? It's fun to take in a film like HER, but as roboticists it's also important
to think about the implications of the underlying technology on practical future
robot designs. SV