Monday, February 05, 2007

You are feeling sleepy

Sleepy, original image uploaded to Flickr by Trinity.

One of my favourite comedy films was much maligned at the cinema. It is called 'The Big Bus' and you have doubtless never heard of it. Its type of humour predates Airplane, and there must be something wrong with me 'cos I like the former much more than the latter. It's been my son's feelgood move ever since he took ill after eating an over-cooked pizza I made him - this film made him forget his queasiness.

Anyhow, amongst many great gags, is that surrounding the co-driver of the nuclear powered bus. We find out that this man's nickname is 'Shoulders' - not on account of his broad frame, but rather because he is narcoleptic and keeps driving on the hard shoulder! The scenes of him fainting at the wheel need to be seen to be appreciated but are the cause of great mirth in this household.

Anyway - why am I mentioning this film? Well, when I saw this story which followed hot on the heels of Vista's launch, a vision of that narcoleptic bus driver sprang immediately to mind! The very idea that the fact that speech recogniton software is built-in and automatically set up, into the Operating System spells a recipe for mischief and mayhem.

It seems there is a worry that audio received through the microphone saying such words as 'delete' and 'shutdown' might cause any Vista-enabled PC's to do just that! This is just what Jack Bauer's enemies have been looking for, or Gene Hackman and his cronies in The Firm - where just saying 'delete all files' would have the desired reaction rather than having to physically click a mouse. Now it doesn't take a genius to realise that this could be exploited in a big way by malicious people - say the sending of a virus with an attachment in the form of an audio file, or an instruction on a website that might be played out of the speakers and then picked up by the microphone - a most interesting case of a feedback loop.

Now lets transport the scenario to a classroom and the potential for disaster would be everywhere - it's just unimaginable what could happen when Tommy tells his hated classmate Bob's computer to delete all his files merely by whispering into the microphone when Bob has gone to the toilet. I can see a scenario where I am telling a class how to do something and upon saying, 'and of course if you want to DELETE your files.....' cue tears and distress as work disappears before their eyes.

Although it seems there really is little to worry about this happening in reality, according to Microsoft, I still find it an interesting concept.

Now, speaking of methods of inputting instructions, here is something I prefer infinitely more than voice recognition software. It is called Dasher and it really is the most incredible (and incredibly useful) program I have come across in a long time. This really is a groundbreaking piece of software that makes you re-think all of your preconceived ideas about the methodology of entering text using a computer.

I had the honour of using this package a year or so ago after Ian Usher showed me it. I still believe it has the potential to transform the use of computers by all users, but particularly those with severe disability. For one thing, there is no need for software to come to terms with the vagaries of our accent, pronunciation and speech impediments. Also, imagine how this program could have assisted with this dreadful case.

I liked Dan Geer's scenario of an aiport concourse with people making use of the free Wifi - when suddenly a voice comes over the PA 'Paging Mr Reese Sett. Paging Mr Reese Sett'. I chuckle to myself again as I think of Shoulders fainting at the wheel of The Big Bus again.

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