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Apologies if this comes across as too "get off my lawn", but I come from a time when to look something up, you had to haul yourself to the library; open one of dozens of drawers filled with index cards; find the card your looking for, which directed you to a stack in the library; find the book on the stack; and finally find the page in the book by consulting an index. It's a lost art. Then, you would have to go to an actual person and engage with them in order to take the book home with you, giving you time-limited access to the information. That's if you're lucky enough that the book existed at your library. If it was checked out or had to be ordered, it might take weeks for you to get access to that information.

Many people today grew up with cellphones in their cribs. They have no idea what information starvation is like. The experience of receiving information you've been waiting for for weeks or months is exhilarating.

Anyway, when you take the library experience versus the experience of pulling up information from a cellphone the improvement is astronomical. From cellphone to voice assistant, the improvement seems very marginal.

Cell phones even represented a distinct advantage over desktops and laptops in that they were always there on your person. Cell phones opened up the possibility to look up information anywhere. With voice assistants it seems the only advantage you gain over cell phones in that you don't have to use your fingers. That doesn't seem very life changing by comparison, unless you don't have fingers, in which case I will admit your life would be vastly improved.

But the downside is that you're connecting a always-on microphone access to mega-corporations who are looking to monetize your existence. For those of us who grew up without the internet or cell phones the trade-off just makes zero sense. We're willing to use cell phones because they open up new worlds of information access. But voice assistants just seems to create more problems than they solve.




I too grew up in the time of card catalogs. And I learned a lot from reading through the other encyclopedia entries as I flipped the pages looking for the page with the info.

Yes, you're right, the voice interface is not the astronomical leap that the cellphone was. But why is that your cutoff line?

My voice assistants offer a lot of benefit to me. Especially with kids, I don't always have a free hand to pull out the cell phone. When my daughter was an infant, it was super convenient to ask it to play soft music as she was falling asleep without having to put her down. Now it's super nice to be able to set multiple timers as I cook with just my voice, instead of trying to fumble with multiple timers on my phone or stove.

I'm not paranoid to think that they are recording everything, because I understand that there would be no ROI for the company to do so with the storage and bandwidth that would be required. And therefore there really isn't much tradeoff at all. Google is already recording every search I do -- does it matter if I use my phone or my Google Home?


My personal experience is that simply typing my query into a search engine or pressing the spotify logo to start my music requires less effort or fuss than attempting to figure out how I'm supposed to word my desire for the benevolent overseer to do what I want.

IE, using voice commands is a downgrade IMO. Voice commands are not directly discoverable, and there's a lot more magic boxes.


> attempting to figure out how I'm supposed to word my desire for the benevolent overseer to do what I want

I have yet to find a use case for modern voice control that required more than a passing thought about how to word things. Even my technologically illiterate parents can use these devices with relative ease, especially compared to smart phone and desktop computer UIs. Have you actually tried out these devices or are you just assuming they're as bad as they were 20 years ago?


I thought there'd be more problems with voice commands, but the Echo's not bad at it. I have to repeat maybe one thing a week, but "Echo, [room] lights on/off/dim to 50%" always works, as does "play X". I don't find myself having to structure a command in any particular way.


I control my lights by saying “all lights red” and “dim all lights to 20%”

Compare this to the number of taps required to do so in the hue app


I recently found out about the iOS widget that the Hue app provides. It's basically a single swipe+tap for me now, even if my phone is locked.


I do find using voice commands a downgrade when it comes to interaction speed. I find it incredibly annoying to talk to alexa as it doesn't seem to match my dialog speed. Then, I find myself standing their waiting for it to shut up thinking, 'I could have done this faster myself'

Also, an interaction I had last week:

add x to my shopping list.

ok, I will add x to my shopping list, anything else?

. . .

But I can't add a list, add pears, apples, and oatmeal to my shopping list.

So If I have raw chicken on my hands and want to add shit to my list, it takes so god damn long that I want to punch the fucking thing.


I don't have an echo but there was a post on HN[0] not long ago that linked to an article[1] about how Alexa is able to add multiple items to your shopping list at once, and how it understands what is what. So in theory you shouldn't be running in to the problem you're describing. Not every time at least.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18706651

[1] https://developer.amazon.com/blogs/alexa/post/36ca7d4c-cd98-...


I'm an artist and paint most of the day. Having voice control of my lights and music and timers / alarms is a huge upgrade for me.


"hey Google, play some music"


I'm sort of on the boundary there. I didn't have a cell phone until I moved away from home for school. I had occasional access to dial up Internet as a kid, but I still remember plenty of afternoons spent at the library.




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