Tell The Computer  comment


What do we mean when we say we "just want to tell the computer"?


words & people

When people are together, we tend to use words to communicate. Jabber, jabber, jabber.

When we stop to think about what is going on it's remarkable how we actually do communicate. Put yourself in the position of an inquisitive child for a minute: "How do I know you mean the same thing when you say a nice evening out as I do?" "How do you know that when I say 'Steve' I mean 'Steve Jobs'?"

How do we know what the other person means? Shared background experiences is the short answer. The slightly longer answer is that often we don't. Misunderstandings occur. How can be expect computers to understand us when we humans often don't?

By and large though, words work when humans are concerned.

words & computers - the simple command

It's not that hard to get a computer to recognize a phrase such as: "Open my pictures folder". In fact, the Mac has had this capability for about a decade. Voice dictation software such as Dragon and IBM's ViaVoice are pretty good for dictation but still won't let you carry out a useful discussion with your computer. Why?

mouse & keyboard & computers

When we communicate with a computer, using a mouse or keyboard, we feel more limited in what we can communicate and therefore have lower expectations as to what we expect to get done.

Looking at a series of icons which represents our available options clearly limit our options. It's easy to see what can be done but it's also very limited.

Typing in a command is not much better for many user as they feel like they have been put out in an area with no guidelines. If you don't have training you can't know what to type. After all it has to be in computer command style with all kinds of strange characters right?

Hence the natural tendency to wish: "If I could only tell the computer what to do" with the implication being use my voice to tell it, the same way I can use my voice to tell a human assistant what to do.

words & computers - the next step

The issue is that we have very different expectations and prejudices of what should happen when we communicate via voice to a person and using a keyboard or a mouse to a computer. We expect to be able to talk to someone and have them understand us.

When we talk we expect to be understood.

When we are not understood we expect a discussion or questions.

When we communicate with a computer using a keyboard or a mouse we expect to have to enter very specific commands which the computer can understand.

But when we talk to the computer, these expectations become blurred: We suddenly expect the same flexibility of communication words give us then communicating with people even though we are communicating with computers, which we understand needs precision commands.


© Frode Hegland
London 2002





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