A Long Way From “Tea. Earl Grey, Hot”

About a million years ago (in computer time), I was sitting in a large hall with a couple hundred other computer professionals, watching a demonstration of a revolutionary new software – Dragon Dictate, which promised to allow you not only to dictate text into a word preocessor, but to also interact with the computer, issuing commands.

The demonstrator showed off ways to issue menu commands in WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and then he opened up the (then familiar) black and white command window with it’s blinking “C>_”.

“You can even use it at the dreaded DOS prompt,” he announced. “dir. enter.”

Dutifully, the screen scrolled a list of files.

Before he could say another word, a voice from the back of the hall shouted out:


The screen cleared and began displaying the “xx% Complete” message indicating the progress of formatting the hard drive. The presenter was too stunned to speak for a few moments. He recovered around the time the screen behind him reported 30% complete.

“I… uh… I don’t think… Well, honestly, I am certain I can’t demonstrate anything more. But I also don’t believe I can offer a better demonstration than that anyway. A guy at the back of this room shouted out something, which was picked up by my microphone.”

By this point, he was gaining speed, “He had clearly never “trained” the program to recognize his voice, but it still did, and exceuted his instructions. If it can do that, it can certainly pick up your voice giving instructions in a typical office environment. Thanks for coming everyone. I’ll take questions over at the side table.”

With Siri being all the rage these days, that event has been on my mind. Then this cartoon came out, and I had to write about it:

(courtesy of Sherman’s Lagoon, Jim Toomey, and King Features)

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