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Say What? On:2009-10-06 04:17:23

As you probably know I’m a wild, ungovernable Mac-computer-lover ---I have a disgusting tendency to acquire anything Apple. So of course I had the first iPhone just as soon as it was available, even though that involved (I kid you not) entering Willow Bend Mall over the roof of the car park well before opening time. Then, even of courser, when the latest one came out I had no alternative but to upgrade. Such is the life of a junkie, though in mitigation, I must say this new iPhone does have lots of can't-live-withoutishnesses.

One of these is Voice Control.
For the last few months I’ve been using this voice control fairly successfully for phoning people without excessive misuse of my eyes whilst driving, and I just now decided to upgrade myself to using it for its other feature of choosing music. “Play Bob Dylan” I said “bing-bing” then, in its sexy girlie voice, “Play-Ing-Led-Zeppe-Lin” which she then did (Black Dog from their IV album---and sadly, sexy or not she seems to have a bit of a speech impediment so I merely think she said Led Zeppelin, anyway one shouldn’t mock the afflicted). I tried again, more carefully, “Play Bo B Dyl Lan”  “bing-bing Play-Ing-Led-Zeppe-Lin”
I tried a few more times---and it was always the same, even to being that very same Zeppelin song.
Then, in one of those strokes of genius with which I punctuate my otherwise plodding life, I tried “Play Led Zeppelin”. Genius always pays off and so at last she played ...Steppenwolf.
"Play Steppenwolf": I got Björk.
"Play Björk"  I suddenly got something about calling multiple numbers--- all of which seemed to be fax numbers.
Then I tried Classical (or rather Early) music: "Play Estampie Retrove" (one of the earliest known Organ pieces---you know, the one from the Robertsbridge Codex) and it played some Sequentia which I suppose was close, though luckily cigarless.
Now of course I do sound somewhat English, so I got Georgia to have a go. She is thoroughly Californian, used to live almost next-door to Apple, and sounds it fur shur, fur shur. She tried asking for Mr Dylan and got ...Melanie, rather appropriately singing "What have they done to my song?" I started to think that maybe the iPhone Girl is cleverer than we think or she sounds, and is analysing our voice stress patterns and stuff and giving us exactly what we need rather than what we ask for, but Georgia scotched that right away by insisting that there was no way she needed Melanie and would I please stop it; and why did I have THAT on my iPhone?
So I figured that iPhoneGirl was viciously giving us exactly what we deserved; but again Georgia squished the idea, saying that no one deserved Melanie.
Why do I have ‘Smelanie’ on my iPhone? Well I really don’t want to go into that at the moment, so let’s just conclude that computers are still pretty thick and less flexible than a conservative on Botox and that we should probably have read the manual and learned to say “Play songs by whoever”, and just be glad that the music we asked for in our experiment wasn’t too far removed from the music we got; I mean imagine wanting lots of Bach and getting back to back Björk.
Ah! It was ever thus with computers, and remember that the iPhone is, when all is done and said, naught but a cute, telephonically and locationally aware small computer.
And that, as with all computers, both great and small it's still failing the Turing test, and failing it miserably. And this in spite of every effort of we lonely desperate humans to get the damn things to pass.
Um... You do know what the Turing Test is don't you? Poor1 Alan Turing back in 1950 suggested that if an observer communicating with on the one hand a computer and on the other a human being couldn't tell which was which, then the computer has intelligence or more likely that the human doesn't---or most likely of all, that the observer is barking mad.
Of course if computers ever do gain real intelligence, we all know exactly what would happen: they would invariably say "I'm sorry Dave I can't do that. Bing-bing! Play-Ing-Led-Zeppe-Lin”
Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


1 to whom incidentally Prime Minister Brown recently apologised for all that, that ...stuff---rather pointlessly if you ask me

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