Will technology kill conversation?
We are steadily and imperceptibly heading towards a world of artificial intelligence, robots and bots to the point where many instances of where we would naturally speak to another human being are being replaced.
"Alexa, can you order me 4 bottles of Chardonnay from 'A Taste of France'", "Siri, can you book a seat on the 'Gatwick Express' to get me to the Airport for 3.30pm tomorrow" - in just 30 years we have already moved away from visiting a local store or a booking office and verbally ordering and buying items, to going online and clicking boxes.
More recently we have started asking our AI assistants to take over these roles, and as technology improves it will handle all functions of a process seamlessly: "Aimee, can you book a seat on the 'Gatwick Express' to get me to the Airport for 3.30pm tomorrow?"
"Mark, I have booked a seat for tomorrow added it to your calendar and your ticket is available on your mobile - would you like me to book an Uber to get you to Victoria station 10 minutes before you depart?"
To complete this task in full, Aimee needs to know what day it is to determine 'tomorrow', that Gatwick Express is a train, that you want to go to 'Gatwick airport', from where you will start your journey, train timetables, delay information, pricing, payment options and access to your calendar - and I have probably missed a step or two.
In reality, we are not far away from this type of resource being fully available and thinking further we are simply a step away from you boarding the train, utilising an implanted chip that confirms who you are and your reservation.
My fridge which automatically knows what is inside and is keeping track of daily requirements will connect with my personal assistant which will handle my restocking requirements; "Mark, I have compiled a grocery list for you, would you like me to place an order?" "Yes please (always good to be polite to your Assistant), but can you add a packet of Malteser's to the list" "Are you sure.... fitbit tells me you are a few kilos over your target weight?", "Yes I'm sure, tell fitbit to increase my circuit training by 10 minutes starting tomorrow am".
My assistant could have read out the shopping list to me or posted it to my device so I could confirm the contents, but in the not too distant future I believe we will have more wearable tech including a HUD (Heads up display) projecting images in front of our eyes, so the shopping list could magically appear in front of me and a flick of my finger will scroll the list. A little further in to the future and the wearable tech will become implanted, so I will have full control over my whole life without needing third party devices.
Our main form of communication at the moment is actually written - I'm using it now, typing to create this article, and if I think about all the instances I have communicated today, outside of the odd conversation with my wife every other moment has been engaged in typing; LinkedIn posts, emails, Board Member Updates, blog posts, IM's and three articles.
However, future technology will actually lead us to speak more, dishing out commands and requests to our assistant like a stroppy teenager in front of his adoring Mum - "Can you get me.... ?" "Can we have sausages tonight?" "Where's my favourite football shirt?" "Can you pick me up at?". Conversion is quicker than typing, it doesn't require a secondary device and with enhancements in AI will probably become a personalised abbreviated language that you develop with your assistant similar to how Cockney slang or other regional dialects developed.
"Aimee, send an email to....". "Aimee create a note to the Board". With 99% accuracy in AI, I probably could have saved a couple of hours today alone, considering all the typing I have done and it would have even handled the research - "Aimee, what was the name of the English comedian that used to dress as a big busted woman?" "Do you mean Les Dawson?", "That's him, can you get me a picture of him in conversation with his co-star?,", "How about this one?", "Perfect, thanks Aimee!".
Already, tasks like making appointments can be handled by AI, and whilst currently the AI is utilising email to complete this task, it is close to making calls to actual secretaries & PA's to set up meetings and it already interacts with diaries in real time. We are a short step away from one persons AI talking with another persons AI and with us never being involved in the process - we will simply turn up at the allotted time having alighted our 'drone taxi' at the designated destination.
We used to physically interact and converse with a whole range of people; shop keepers, milkman, telephone engineers, door to door salesman (giving my age away) and company receptionists, to name a few. Many of these roles have already disappeared and more and more will be replaced with machines, meaning we run in to the danger of only ever conversing with machines in our everyday lives.
Sure it's a danger, and some mortals might prefer the solitude of 'me and my Assistant', but I don't see it that way. I prefer to see a world where my assistant handles all the mundane stuff, ordering things, giving me reminders, making suggestions to improve my well being and life "Shall I book your annual check up with Dr Miles?", "I've spotted a new book by Michael Tobin centered on work life balance, shall I order a copy?", leaving me more time to interact with more people.
This article was actually stimulated by a phone call I received from a good friend yesterday. He had recently been 'off the grid' for, personal reasons. His call was well overdue and I think we both benefited from the experience - I for one was certainly enlivened by the conversation. I'm not a psychologist but I don't think a machine can ever be a replacement for human interaction - bottom line; it's good to talk, but it's better to talk to each other!
What do you think?
Two Glasses of Wine
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 glasses of wine theory...
A professor stood before his class with some items on his desk in front of him. Wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous 'YES.'
The professor then produced two glasses of wine from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
'Now,' said the professor, as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions; things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else; the small stuff.
If you put the sand into the jar first', he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the good things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. Do one more run down the ski slope. There will always
be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first; the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the wine represented.
The professor smiled. 'I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of glasses of wine with a friend.'