Voice Command: Helpful or Harmful?


An 18 year old boy named Sam Ray was making repairs on his truck in Murfreesboro, Tennessee when the jack holding up the truck gave out.  His truck fell on top of him.  As he was trying to get out from under the vehicle, he heard Siri activate.  He tried to reactivate it several times, and was able to tell Siri to “call 911”.  When he heard the operator, he started yelling.  He was freed from under the truck about 40 minutes after he got trapped, and was airlifted to a nearby hospital.  He had three broken ribs, a bruised kidney, a cut on his forehead, and second- and third-degree burns.  According to Dr. Richard Miller, a doctor at the hospital where Sam Ray was treated, “His injuries were not life-threatening, but they could have been.”  Find the link to the story here.

Siri was developed by a company called SRI, and Apple bought it in April of 2010.  Its first release was on October 4, 2011, which was also the day before Apples founder, Steve Jobs, passed away.  Other voice command interfaces have been developed since then, including Google Now for Android, and Cortana for Windows Phones and PCs.  These platforms simplify our lives significantly.  They can schedule appointments for us, send texts, reserve tables at restaurants, and much more, all hands-free.  But are there negative affects?  What are the concerns of using this technology?  There are some dangers and other cons in using these interfaces, but the pros outweigh the negatives.  Here are some ways that voice command has changed our lives, for better or for worse.

One area voice command helps us in our lives is through hands-free communication, particularly in cars.  Auto makers have added Bluetooth in their cars to pair with a drivers’ cell phone, enabling you to text and call through your car.  They have become so popular that virtually no new cars are without them.  These interfaces, dubbed “infotainment systems”, greatly increase convenience, especially because most provincial governments in Canada and state governments in the U.S. have bannedford sync
calling or texting with your phone in your hand.  With Ford’s infotainment system SYNC, developed by Microsoft, you can read your texts aloud to you, play music that is on your phone wirelessly, check the weather, and even check the health of your vehicle, all with your voice.

But how safe are these systems to use?  According to a Toronto Star article, while using an infotainment system, “visual scanning is disrupted, prediction of hazards is impaired, decisions for action are altered, and appropriate reactions are delayed”.  An AAA (American Automobile Association) study found that it takes at least 15 seconds for a driver to fully focus on driving after using an infotainment system.  At worst, drivers took a full 27 seconds to fully concentrate. Click here to see the full article about the AAA study.

So infotainment interfaces can be very convenient, they can also be a danger.  These should definitely not be used by novice drivers, and should only be used very cautiously by experienced drivers.

Voice command also helps people who are visually impaired immensely with using cell phones or computers.  Take Lex Arriola.  She is a 15 year old who was born blind.  Because of Siri, she can stay connected with her friends by texting with them.  Even just ten years ago, this would not have been possible.  Now she can have a sense of normalcy and have the same experiences that people with their sight can have.  See the article about Lex here.

However, the benefits for the visually impaired may be exaggerated.  According to a blog post by Micheal Hansen, who is blind, Siri doesn’t make that big of a difference.  He says that Siri is not yet accurate enough at recognizing speech for it to be very helpful for a blind person.  He also says that “Anyone who has asked Siri a question and gotten the response, ‘Here’s what I found…take a look!’ will know what I mean; there is often a lot more involved than just asking Siri any question and it directly telling you the answer—enough so that I often am faster at just looking the information up myself.”  Click here to see Michael’s blog post.

Another area where voice command has a big impact on our lives is industry, particularly nursing.  In the U.K., nurses are beginning to use speech-to-text technology for documentation.  This task without voice command takes up to 20 percent of a nurses shift.  The hospitals use Nuance’s Dragon Medical Network Edition.  This software can understand nursing acronyms, and automatically puts them into the full name.  This program also offers templates based on certain situations, allowing nurses to just insert a few words, saving significant time.  By implementing this change, nurses can spend less time documenting, and can provide their patients with better service.

Voice command has helped and continues to helps us in our everyday lives.  I believe that we will continue to find new uses for this relatively recent technological breakthrough. Although there are drawbacks and some risks in using this technology, when used properly there are far more pros than cons.  This technology is just in its infancy. Advancements will continue to be made.  What will come next?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Works Cited

Bodien, Teddy, and Brendan McDermid. “Car Infotainment Systems Distract Even with Voice Commands.” AutosCNBC, 22 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

“Car Infotainment systems.” 30 July 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

“Ford sync.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Hansen, Michael “On Siri, Voice Control, and How the Blind Use iPhones.” 22 Aug. 2015, Web.

Hernandez, Daniela. “The revolution in technology that is helping blind people see.” Fusion. Fusion, 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.

Malloy, Gerry. “Hands-Free Not Necessarily Safer, Study Finds | Toronto Star.” Toronto StarToronto Star Newspapers Ltd., 21 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

Tennessee, Associated Press in. “IPhone’s Siri Made Call That Teenager Says Saved His Life on Tennessee Road.” The GuardianThe Guardian, 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

White, Peter, and Elaine Scott. “Applying Speech-to-Text Systems in Documentation.” Nursing TimesEMAP Publishing Limited, 6 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

Photo Citations:

Siri Picture

Ford SYNC Picture




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