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Robot voice

Voice Technology: Will We Ever Accept Robot Voices?

We use Artificial Intelligence every day, but robot voices still give us the creeps.

Voice technology is all around us: in our smartphones, answering our customer service calls and asking us if we want a receipt when we take money from ATMs. And those are primitive examples by today’s standards.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is booming in the tech industry, even if most of it hasn’t reached consumer territory yet. Google recently made headlines after its AlphaGo program beat the world Go champion (a Korean board game) 4-1 which had proven difficult for AI as a human way of thinking is required to beat the opponent.

Meanwhile, getting consumers to accept voice technology is proving more difficult than beating world champions. We have no problems adopting the AI in Google Search, but give that technology a voice and our resistance tends to multiple. So will we ever accept robot voices or is that human element a step too far outside of our comfort zone?

Humans vs the machines
The whole concept of AI brings a new world of social, moral, economic and other talking points to the discussion table. The likes of Stephen Hawking and other prominent science figures have warned AI could bring the human race to an end. Others say it poses a threat to our jobs and the basis of economics as we know it. Not all prediction are quite so bleak, of course.

Where AI will take us is anything but clear and only time will tell. But there’s an inherent distrust we have for technology that shows intelligence – more specifically, the potential to become more intelligent than us some day.

Besides, some of the things these robots come out with are pretty creepy:

Some bad press for robots
Last month Microsoft had to apologise after its Twitter Chatbot, affectionately called Tay, was hijacked by a group of users to spew sexist, racist and all-round offensive stuff. It wasn’t technically Tay’s fault, but rather a flaw in Microsoft’s programming that was exploited. Still, it’s another bad piece of PR for Microsoft and AI in general. One way or another, the robots just keep on upsetting us.

We also tend to associate robot voices with painful calls to the Inland Revenue, awful samples in pop music and being told to place our items in that damn bagging area time and again.

Then we have the anthology of sci-fi movies depicting the fall of mankind at the hands of AI. Not to mention just plain awful movies like Transformers that refuse to go away. No wonder we hate robots.

Not everyone hates the machines, though
Things are different in other parts of the world, though. Japan is leading the way in making robots a part of everyday life. Look out hotel staff, because the machines are already taking your jobs.

It’s not so much the technology that’s important here, but the cultural acceptance that’s interesting. As things stand, the evolution of AI is far outpacing our embracing of it. But will we ever really accept robot voice as normal or will the eeriness be too much for us? Or is the fact that we have seen an increase in popularity for IVR voice over projects telling us this is the beginning?

By looking at countries like Japan, where the concept of robots is more accepted, you can start to see how the idea could spread to other parts of the world. The truth is we probably won’t have much choice in the matter either as giant corporations are investing big.

We’ve already accepted AI because it’s something we can’t escape. Giving AI a voice is a new barrier but could it soon become less alien to us? Will there eventually be a generation that accept robot voices are the norm? Share your thoughts with us.