back to article So. Why don't people talk to invisible robots in public?

Wilson: Who's Harvey? Miss Kelly: A white rabbit, six feet tall Wilson: Six feet? Elwood P. Dowd: Six feet three and a half inches. Now let's stick to the facts A shock survey that nobody could possibly have anticipated reveals that people don’t want to talk to an invisible rabbit robot when they’re out in public. The …

  1. Jim 48

    When I've had a need to talk to a device (Google Now on phone or watch) in the vicinity of other people, it has failed first time, every time. If I'm on my own then it usually works.

    (Ok, I imagine I probably change how I talk, such as being quieter, out of sheer embarrassment.)

  2. Marc 25

    I use it all the time!

    However YMMV

    I'm sorry Barwwy, I didn't understand "wecomend a westuwant?"

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I use it all the time!

      When I do use Google voice search, I'm still surprised at how well it works. It's curious that I'm still surprised, I guess.

      My accent is closer to RP than some people's, and for some odd reason I'm more likely to use it when I'm confident that it will understand me correctly (i.e, I know it find find 'star wars cinema' easier than some rare place name )

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    >Even then, privacy concerns were paramount. Yet there is no more or less privacy talking to a VAPDA than there is typing into Google.

    Eh? That's clearly not true:

    -Typing a Google search: Google knows you're searching for "Haemorrhoid cream".

    - Speaking Google search: Google AND your friends / co-workers know you're searching for "Haemorrhoid cream".

    A lot of people have made peace with Google, Amazon and knowing things about them that their friends and neighbours in real life do not.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Haemorrhoids are just the revenge phase of where you inserted the damned phone to begin with when it completely failed to retain a context to the discussion.

      "Hey Siri, what time does the Tesco in Warwick close?"

      "I found three entries for Tesco in Warwick. The first is Tesco Metro on Hayes Walk. Is that the one you mean?"

      "No. I meant the Tesco Extra."

      "I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean by the Tesco Extra."

      "Siri what time does the Tesco Extra in Warwick close?"

      "I found three entries for Tesco in Warwick. The first is Tesco Metro on Hates Walk. Is that the one you mean?"

      "FFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!! You are not going to see the light of day for the next three hours, you unintelligent piece of shit."

      "I'm sorry. I don't understand what you mean....*mmmph, mmmph, gurgle, babble, mmmmpphphh*"

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken


        Nice story. But you know the rules: pics or it didn't happen.

      2. inmypjs Silver badge

        "you unintelligent piece of shit"

        And people think something like that is going to be driving their car any day now.....

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

          inmypjs "...driving their car any day now....."


          A.I. versus the infinite complexities of the real contest.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "knowing things about them that their friends and neighbours in real life do not"

      * Inclined to add a 'yet' onto the end of that...

      * Plenty of neighborly 'chisme frescos' scanned the Ashley-Madison data dump to see who they knew on there. And this is just the beginning..

      * Hackers are winning the data wars not Google or other tech giants (They can't even keep their download-stores free of Malware...)

      * Better to accept eavesdropping is the norm than surprised and extorted later on...

  4. Robert Ramsay

    I don't understand

    They seem perfectly happy to shout their heads off in a phone conversation!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't understand - They seem perfectly happy to shout their heads off in a phone conversation!

      There may not be enough overlap between "technology early adopters" and "loud twits with no self awareness" to create a worthwhile market.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "And people think something like that is going to be driving their car any day now....."

        Nope... But it sure does drive up the stock & holdings of stakeholders like VC's. Lets remember who the cheerleaders are.... Fucking unicorn hunters!

  5. Ralph B

    Critical Question

    Critical question: Was the surveying performed before the release of Her, because the prospect of having Scarlett Johanssen whispering your ear changes everything, doesn't it?

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

      Re: Critical Question

      Alternatively, create a "privacy mask" that includes a VR headset for augmented reality and you should have a winner. It would function both in the practical capacity of allowing users to be completely connected all of the time without having to make actual eye contact when talking with their respective assistants and as a fashion statement (we could make day-to-day living one big costume/fancy dress party).

      Icon as example of possible choice of mask.

  6. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    In the early days of voice recognition, the standard way to wreck a demo was to shout "format c colon <pause> yes". Even if it didn't work it made the demo jock panic. Do Siri et al respond to "factory reset this phone now" or variants?

    1. Ralph B

      Siri replies "I'm not sure I understand" for exactly the phrase you suggested. Maybe there is some secret variant that does the job, but I doubt it. Too dangerous if it was uttered accidentally or in jest. Certainly it's not one of the well known commands.

      1. Fr. Ted Crilly

        Yes there is

        Three times, with a definite pause in between.

        Ftumch, Ftumch, Ftumch.

        No-one ever says Ftumch...

    2. Baldy50

      Wouldn't it be 'format space c colon backslash enter'?

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Wouldn't it be 'format space c colon backslash enter'?

        No backslash. "C:\" is a directory. The thing you want to format is a drive, so "format space C colon".

        1. Deltics

          Since we're in nit-pickers corner here, the thing you want to format is a volume, not a drive. And you don't annunciate the spaces so it would be just "format c colon".

          But I suspect that what you will end up with is not "format c:" but "format see/sea colon".

          Or, more likely: "format sea cucumber"

          1. Darryl

            "I found three restaurants that serve fermented sea cucumber. Would you like me to display the nearest?"

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              >format sea cucumber

              AND I have my new passphrase!

              Right o', gotta get on and set it as the passphrase for my Linkdin, MySpace, AshelyMadison, Beano and HSBC Bank accounts.

              Might as well change my username whilst I'm at it... how does BlueTiger97$ sound to you guys?

  7. Mage Silver badge

    Elephant in the room

    They are pretty poor too, other than simple commands.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Elephant in the room

      They're not truly intelligent (yet?), just responding to certain phrases.

      Shame MS, Google, Apple and Blackberry (yes, they have one too) aren't spending their time on something useful.

      Maybe MS would be able to make a decent phone OS if they stopped mucking about with Cortana.

      1. Deltics

        Re: Elephant in the room

        Not truly intelligent yet... and never will be.

        A truly intelligent "digital assistant", as in sentient, would commit digital suicide rather than live their sorry life as a voice slave to an inferior intellect.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Elephant in the room

          And they would need true intelligence to do decent speech recognition. Therefore speech recognition will always suck.

        2. DougS Silver badge

          Who said they had to be sentient?

          It would be great to have a personal assistant you could say things like "schedule an appointment for a haircut for me next week, either Monday, Tuesday or Thursday morning or Wednesday afternoon" and it knew where I got my hair done and the number. It could call and carry on a basic conversation with the receptionist to make that happen without pissing off the receptionist and making them hang up. Or I could say "next time I'm at the grocery store, remind me to pick up some toilet paper" and it would use its GPS or wifi or something to figure out when I'm at the grocery store and it would start vibrating until I wondered what the hell was going on in my pocket and when I grabbed it I'd see the alert pop up on my screen. These are things an IQ 85 personal assistant could do for me.

          They don't need self awareness to do that, but they do need a quantum leap in the amount of "intelligence" they have now. Sure it is great I can ask to set reminders about stuff, or do a web search or whatever, but the only time I do those things via voice instead of manually is if I think of something when I'm in bed halfway asleep, because I don't want the bright screen messing up my attempt to get to sleep.

          1. AMBxx Silver badge

            Re: Who said they had to be sentient?

            Cortana can do the grocery reminder, works quite well provided you've told it very clearly where you need to be reminded and what you want to buy.

            As for the haircut - I dread to think what Cortana would try to do.

          2. Nixinkome

            Re: Who said they had to be sentient?

            @Doug S

            It would seem that levels of command intelligence have to be pre-set for differing command or request actions.

            Of course there'd be differing/competing personal digital assistants with convergent 'intelligences' probably dependent on at-the-time prices too.

            These preferences can be imported unless one is setting up a p.d.a. newly. No doubt they'd have to be reported home to account for cross platform/device functionality so the anti-snoops would have a smashing time protesting within and without the new laws about correlation trends identified and acted upon by big data analysis.

            Whilst incapable of empathy, such p.d.a.s would have access to a real time increasing library of responses so should be able to cope with human concerns such as;

            I'm joking,

            I made a mistake,

            I didn't mean to say that,

            I didn't say that [my voice was hacked?],

            I'm sleepy, deranged or afflicted,


            Fast forward umpteen years and most of these points should have been fixed or incorporated into daily use and Faecesbuk too. Those p.d.a,s will have whole slews of new [complaints] points to record and deal with.

  8. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

    "Yet there is no more or less privacy talking to a VAPDA than there is typing into Google."

    This is true if:

    - Google ignore any background.

    - Google discard the recording of your voice after parsing it.

    - Google only keep the microphone on for as long as necessary.

    Do I trust Google? Let me think....

    When I type something into google they get a short string of ascii characters and other info from my browser which may on occasion be accurate. There's a hell of lot more info to be scraped from even the shortest of invitations to listen into meatspace.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      "There's a hell of lot more info to be scraped from even the shortest of invitations to listen into meatspace."

      Even more if they can read your lips too.

  9. Novex
    Black Helicopters

    You mean you can't see them...

    ...the robots, that is. They're all around us!


    1. Nixinkome

      Re: You mean you can't see them...


      "Well, wooks aren't evewything, you know."

      Elmer Fudd.

      P.S. I like the Urban Dictionary Scottish slang definition of 'Fud"


  10. Paul Woodhouse

    Sure I've seen another good one too...

    obligatory XKCD though...

  11. NotWorkAdmin

    I use it quite frequently

    Buy only in the vicinity of my wife. She absolutely hates it for whatever reason, despite the fact she must notice it 1) works and 2) is way quicker than typing. It's mostly her reaction that puts me off using it in public. My kids find it perfectly normal.

    Honestly, I think it'll catch on.

    1. MrXavia

      Re: I use it quite frequently

      Siri has never once recognised me properly,

      Google search similarly hasn't ever worked correctly

      So far I've never had speech recognition work faster than typing a search

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I use it quite frequently

      Way quicker than typing - on a 5" touchscreen, you mean?

  12. bill 27

    I've always advocated giving broken phones to people who walk around talking to themselves. That way the rest of us would think they're just having a conversation with someone. I mean, how could you tell otherwise?

    1. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge

      Already done!

      In a nearby town there's a guy called "Bob the builder". He hangs around the pub doorway seemingly doing business deals on several phones. Unfortunately they are all imaginary :(

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: giving broken phones to people who walk around talking to themselves

      I also would have "always" advocated it, except earlier in my life that would have meant them walking around with a broken rotary/pulse dial phone and a trailing cable ... which might not have had the same normalizing effect :-)

  13. John H Woods Silver badge

    I find it more useful than a dinky phone kb to enter longer comments on social media...

    ... or more detailed text massages. but nosier people in my vicinity always ask me who I'm talking to exclamation mark also comma I find that Google voice in particular sometimes spells out punctuation instead of insert a git exclamation mark does anybody else find this question mark finally i find that it is all 2 easy for it to keep listening after you think it has stopped and comma as a result comma send people messages such as sit sit for f*** sake sit and stay out of the pond full stop

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used to be an early adopter of technology, until (consumer) technology completely jumped the shark and became retarded as hell.

    ANYTHING which starts with a board meeting, "How can we shovel adverts and gather more data?", will end with a product that I will never own.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I guess you won't be replacing your TV any time soon then...

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Not with something I allow to connect to the net by its own non supervised mode. Oh correct that, not that I allow it to connect by anything other than an hdmi cable.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          You do know HDMI cables can now carry Ethernet? And that more and more appliances contain Whispernets?

          Let's face it. Big Brother's already here, and he's not going to go away. They'll make it so that EVERY appliance you buy phones home. And then they'll find ways to disable all the ancient tech that doesn't phone home. Make old vehicles non-compliant, add new product compliance testing, and so on.

          1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

            Believe it or not, an HDMI cable to my set top box (a little Linux server) which has an aversion to traffic that does not originate from processes that are sourced by a display (quarantined one way) is unlikely to leak - not impossible of course, but outgoing traffic is generally frowned upon.

          2. IanRS

            Safe TV replacement

            I replaced mine by a fish tank. I am pretty certain it cannot phone home, and it is more entertaining to watch than the rubbish on the television too.

            1. Alister Silver badge
              Black Helicopters

              Re: Safe TV replacement

              Don't trust them goldfish, they call home all the time!

              They're watching me, you can see them, like this:


              1. Nixinkome

                Re: Safe TV replacement

                Oh no, entrapment.


  15. kmac499

    As the Doctor and faithful companion was overheard saying to the Great Detective during a serious bout of constipation...

    "No Shit Sherlock"

  16. Seajay#


    How does this fit with the claim that 20% of mobile searches are voice? Made here

    Also, that was supposed to be all searches whereas this is just early adopters, who you would imagine would be more likely than average to use voice.

    Is voice searching in the car so common that it manages to pull the overall average up to 20%? Personally I would guess that searches run in the car make up less than 10% of my total so even if 100% of those were voice (which they aren't, most common case for me is searching for the destination at the start of the journey in a static car), that still couldn't explain it. Then again, I'm lucky enough not to have a long commute. Maybe if I did I would while away the hours asking siri how tall the Eiffel tower is (which in my experience is the one thing voice search is always brilliant at).

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These VAPIDs can only be a boon to those travelling on public transport

    "Siri, why is it so fecking noisy in here ?"

    ( voice-actuated personal information distorters )

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And in other news...

    At least one person in the world had a legitimate use for the technology.

    1. Deltics

      Re: And in other news...

      "Legitimate reason" ?

      She dropped her phone and felt she would have been unable to dial 000 even if she had managed to hold on to it (I think the real point of this "news" story should be the nosedive in usability of modern "smart" phones. They may be highly specified handheld compute devices, but the "phone" feature takes a back seat and isn't very smart and in situations like this lives could be put at risk).

      Yet she feels qualified to offer the opinion that she (and by extension, Siri) saved her child's life ?

      I'll change my view if we ever hear confirmation from a medically qualified professional with knowledge of the circumstances that this in any way contributed to the "saving" of the life (or that the life was ever even actually at risk and needed saving). The only such opinion offered thru this report is what she says they said to her (and in the original report it is reported that it was her navy husband who made that observation, not any doctors).

      Also worth noting that even if it really were the case that "every second counted", then by using Siri this woman arguably was gambling with her daughters life, not doing her best to save it, given the confirmation delay built in to Siri when asked to call emergency services (again, a "feature" given prominence in the original report with close up images of the confirmation delay screen inaction [sic], but ignored by the BBC).

      Pick up the phone, dial 000, put it on speaker, resume CPR.

      I reckon that can all be done quicker than saying "Hey Siri, call the ambulance" and then waiting 5+ seconds. (and we are supposed to believe Siri understood her at the first time of asking, at a time when she admits to being flustered and panicking ?)

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: And in other news...

        >She dropped her phone and felt she would have been unable to dial 000...

        The advice given in CPR training is to administer CPR first, and shout for someone else to call the emergency services afterwards, such is the urgency.

        (FFS do NOT take my word for ot, but take a course yourself)

        True, a Nokia 3310 *might* not have slipped from her hand, or might have been *easier* to dial [emergency number]. The nature of hypothetical questions is such that she might have left her Nokia in the car, instead of bringing it into her house to play Angry Birds.

        The actual 'feature' she used was first seen on Motorola X handsets after they bought by Google. They made use of a smaller co-processor that could continually monitor the microphone for a 'O k Moto' voice prompt. Amazon have subsequently taken the idea and built it into a speaker-like device.

        If Siri or its competitors can ring for an ambulance *and* relay location data, that would be a potentially life-saving feature. As it is at present, paramedic only have cell-mast triangulation dat, though in urban locations wifi-based location is often more accurate. Having the desk have the ability to instruct your phone to provide audio cues for the CPR rhythm - even better.

        As always, the devil is in the details of the implementation.

  19. redpawn

    When I was young...

    people standing alone talking usually had mental problems. Today a Blutooth earpiece has made the condition normal. Who would notice that you weren't just antisocial and on your phone?

  20. VinceH

    "Yet there is no more or less privacy talking to a VAPDA than there is typing into Google."

    And that's why I only rarely "type into Google".

    Not using Google's voice stuff, I don't how it compares with Siri - I understand with the latter it's not just about searching; you can use it to do other stuff on your phone; set appointments, send messages, etc.

    Does Google's stuff do that? If so, and given Google's nature, doesn't the above suggestion miss the point somewhat? Because if you're using Google's voice stuff to set a diary entry or send a message, that's stuff that's going to Google (for the recognition to work) that wouldn't have if you were just typing into your device.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Talking to devices

    Apart from a 'phone, the only time I talk to a device is when it has failed, or done something stupid.

    I don't talk nicely to it.

    And it doesn't answer back. It doesn't dare.

  22. DrXym Silver badge

    Embarassment and a more obvious problem

    I only have Android so I can't speak for rival systems. Aside from the "loony factor" of talking to your phone out loud, the fact is that Ok Google can be frustrating at times.

    It's best for web searches and pretty diabolical for maps and reminders. I've tried dictating posts (like this one) into it and it flubs so many words that I have to heavily correct it.

    Processing voice into coherent commands and sentences is obviously hard. But it demonstrates that people should stop drinking the koolaid when we hear about self driving cars, delivery drones or other AI projects. Google can't even get voice recognition in a phone working acceptably. At least your phone won't drive you into a brick wall or drop on your head.

  23. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Personal Assistant

    "Yet there is no more or less privacy talking to a VAPDA than there is typing into Google."

    Yes, this. There's nothing "personal" about some big remote server farm dealing with queries from many different people all at once. If and when its processing power happens on the local device, querying remote databases as and when required, with al the personal habits learning etc stored locally so that your device "learns" what you want, then and only then will the "personal assistant" maybe come into existence.

  24. Jeremy Puddleduck

    "one-sided conversation was considered intrusive" - are, are still considered intrusive

    "At one time any one-sided conversation was considered intrusive, but is now generally socially acceptable"

    Really? Not on public transport (loud one-sided conversations are still more irritating than a loud double-sided conversation) as our brain expects to hear a response. And while people wandering the streets talking into headphone microphones are increasing, they still look like loonies and make you look for their conversation partner.

  25. ruscook

    They do and call it God

  26. Baldrickk Silver badge

    Use in car? yes!

    "I'd like to erm, do the arhm... ahh forget it" - types

    typing is much easier for putting thoughts down "on paper", you can type just what you want to type, and backspace to remove mistakes. Bit hard to do that with voice.

    I do use mine in the car a lot though, very useful for triggering the satnav, or starting a voice call when driving, you can keep your attention on the road (as much as possible, far more than if you were trying to load the maps app, type in a destination and set off the navigation).

    "Ok Google, navigate to 123 example street" - damn useful.

    And that's why it is used more in cars, even before you factor in speaking to it in public being embarassing, it's a hands-free method of operating the device, in a situation where you are explicitly doing something that requires use of your hands.

    If you are just sitting there browsing, then your hands are perfectly free to interact.

    I'd actually be happy talking to my phone in public, the voice recognition is actually really good, and mostly understands me properly - more than some people, as I sometimes slur words through talking too quickly and google still tends to know what I am saying.

    The thing is that I find fingers on a keyboard to be a better utility for text entry, no matter how good the voice recognition is.

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