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Voice-recognition gadgets make me worry for the future of humanity | Michele Hanson

‘Our limbs could atrophy after months of lying down …’
‘Our limbs could atrophy after months of lying down …’ Photograph: Hero Images/Getty Images

I’m disappointed in my friend Mavis. She bought one of those little voice-recognition assistance gadgets for her parents for Christmas. Whatever for?

“I couldn’t think of anything else to buy them,” says she, weedily. Do they like it? “I don’t know,” says she. “They haven’t spoken to me yet.” Would she like one? “Oh no,” says Mavis. “I’d rather remember my own appointments, keep my brain working, switch the lights on myself and get a bit of exercise. And the salesman didn’t like them either. He was worried about data collection.’

Sensible him. I’m also worried about the future of all this. I see us lying about like dying slugs, with tubes coming out of every orifice, so these machines can perform our bodily functions as well as order our shopping – even shopping we don’t want, which our children ordered on the sly – and let in any old robber who calls instructions through the letter box, if there’s anything left to take after our bank accounts have been cleaned out, because earphones and passive loudspeakers are, after all, only reverse microphones, which can relay our details to the crooks who in the future may be able to hack in and find them, because we couldn’t be fagged to go to the shops, and preferred to buy everything online. Without moving a muscle.

Very Orwell, 1984. “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously,” he wrote. “There was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.”

But who cares, so long as our devices get the latest football scores, remind us about our dentist’s appointment, find music, and turn on the heating before we get home? Assuming we can leave the house and our limbs haven’t atrophied from months of lying down with the slave devices performing our every task.

Still, heaven forbid that I should make sweeping generalisations. Some voice recognition is tremendously useful if you have genuine difficulty typing, or getting about. But why use up our finite resources just for fun? Perhaps because these wretched machines will make some people colossally rich and happy. It just won’t be you, or Mavis’s parents.

This article titled "Voice-recognition gadgets make me worry for the future of humanity" was written by Michele Hanson, for The Guardian on Monday 8 January 2018 12.07pm

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