It's Deputy Creative Director Neil Walker here. I'm talking talkable tech after getting a hold of two of the market leaders, and I may have discovered a flaw which might just surprise you…

 

Talkable tech. Everyone’s…well talking about it.

 

It’s so new, that even while I type the word ‘talkable’ in this post, Word tells me no such word exists.

But it’s everywhere.

And why not, it’s the future arrived in cool little speakers.

Ones that light up with neat little lights when you bark commands and questions at them.

It's the stuff of science fiction. Yet another thing that the modern world has presented us to make life easier and make us feel like we're a member of Starfleet. (Surely, teleporters will be a reality soon, right?)

Last Christmas, I got two of the market leaders, the Amazon Echo and the Google Home (Apple's offering hadn't been released in Dec) and since then I have been experimenting, testing and chatting to the hands-free devices since January.

I'm not going to get into a blow-by-blow review or comparison of the two; there's plenty of those already. But I'm quite surprised how much talkable tech has become part of the Walker family life after only a few months. We all use the funny little machines on a daily basis now. And I've grown rather fond of them, which may confuse you having read the title of this post - but we'll get to that later.

 

Ready to serve

 

Now, I know there have been slowly evolving concerns in the media recently regarding the obligation of the device to listen to everything you say as it patiently awaits the trigger command of "Alexa…" or "Hey Google…". Personally, I don't fear the invasion of privacy in my home by a snooping, semi-sentient loudspeaker. I'm not even sure what the likes of Google would do with data harvested from my family discussions. Sparkling insights such as "Where's the car keys…?? What do you mean I had them last?", or "Is this the episode of Teletubbies when LaLa gets strung out after eating too much Tubby Custard??” may be of little use to savvy-marketers I suspect.

But the fact is, talkable tech can be a useful addition to the home. They can help answer questions (it didn't know where my car keys were either by the way) and play music or the radio, tell you the news, the weather and even dim the lights or turn off the heating. But, there is ONE wee thing that niggles me, and it may not be what you expect…

My daughter, at the age of 2-and-a-half is watching and listening to everything and everyone around her. It’s how she informs her world and it's key to her development. With this in mind, I’ve become acutely aware that she’s watching me demand that Alexa - this funny little woman-in-a-box - carry out my every whim and fancy, and that I DON’T ever say please or thank you. Bear with me here…

 

Are manners dead?

 

Basic manners, saying please and thank you, were something drummed into me as a kid and now I'm trying to drum them into my kid. I've grown up knowing that that little statements can make a big difference. Now, I know you're probably screaming at your screens right now "Yeah, but it's a bloody machine!". You're right, but little Penny, aged 2.5 years, doesn't understand that they're just machines, powered by code and algorithms.

All Penny hears is a human voice interacting with other humans. It must be terribly confusing when I bluntly demand Alexa play The Rolling Stones, and then hold a tangerine hostage until my daughter asks for it with a "please" at the end of the sentence, after which I then threaten to take it back if she doesn't say thank you.

And so, I've found myself saying “please” and “thanksevery time I request something from my talkable tech around the home.

 

Hear me out...

 

As I've already mentioned, this is emerging tech. It's set to take over more and more of our lives. By the time Penny's my age, talking to tech will have become a ubiquitous feature of our everyday lives. But will our brusque and discourteous language permeate into our interaction with each other? 

Will it join the debates such as, is text-speak damaging basic grammar, or whether screen time on tablets etc. has taken over reading actual books and good old playing outside with real friends, face-to-face, racquet-to-racquet or side by side roaming on a bicycle?

I guess what I'm saying is, if we want tech to be as human as possible. If we want tech to make a better society. Then perhaps tech needs to preserve the civil principles and the core human complexities that keep us…well, human. Perhaps Mr Asimov needed an additional law of robotics? Maybe the likes of Google and Amazon could create a setting that requires basic manners for requests to be carried out…?

For now, please, can we all try to be a little kinder to our talkable tech? Thank you.