Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the death of writing!

This is pure wild speculation: I can imagine writing becoming obsolete within maybe 200 years. My logic is thus:

Writing as a technology has only been with us for a small time (6000 years or so, compared to the 100,000 years or so of homo sapien evolution (ohhh, let's not get into how to date homo sapiens)), and it has only been utilized by a large number of people for an even smaller time (maybe 200 years or so, before that most people were illiterate (probably still are)). Hence, writing is an unnecessary and cumbersome luxury we can happily live without should something better come along.

Now imagine that the computational linguists finally get off their lazy arses and give me a computer I can frikkin talk to and can talk back to me*. If I can talk to my computer like a human being, poof goes the keyboard, right? I give a 90% chance of having this as a viable alternative within 50 years**.

Once I'm unburdened of the clunky inefficiency of a keyboard, and once I can preserve and share ideas without a writing system (think bloggingheads), why oh why would I bother with the ridiculous tedium of representing my words in an altogether unnecessary form?

But, you say, writing provides the best way to preserve and share ideas*** because it lets us organize and review and get all meta. No. It does none of those things. We do that. We're just stuck with this third party representation in which to do those things.

But how would academics write papers and get tenure? Good question. First, tenure will die long before writing systems (I give it maybe 75 years). Second, imagine that instead of writing a paper, I can create a virtual me, encode it with a set of arguments about a topic then instead of reading my paper, you engage in a Socratic give-and-take with this virtual me on the topic. Call it iSocrates****

Thus endeth the prophesy.

*I want everything Kirk had. I got the cell phone. The Terrapins are working on a transporter, now give me a frikkin computer I can talk to!

**I just made those numbers up. People seem to like fake numbers, so okay, there you are.

***You didn't really say that. I made that up. This is what's known as a straw man argument. It makes this kind of bullshitting easier.

****Dear gawd that's a horrible name. Let's hope this whole iXXX trend goes the way of eXXX, eXtreme, XXXtech, XXXsoft, etc.

6 comments:

ericbateson said...

Especially since iSocrates (or, more conventionally, Isocrates) was someone entirely different!

outerhoard said...

I don't share your opinion that voice-to-text has the potential, even in theory, to be all that efficient as a primary form of input. I think its potential lies in being used in conjunction with other forms of input, just as we use mice and keyboard in conjunction with each other today.

Talking to my computer sounds exhausting: compared to typing, it is far from an efficient use of my energy. And noisy, if other people are talking to theirs. And I can't imagine an efficient method of error correction. And I'm not holding my breath for the computer that I don't want to swear at.

Chris said...

outerhoard, yes, I do agree that those of us steeped in the tradition of mouse/keyboard input will probably never quite morph into optimal users of voice interfaces. But fast forward 100 years when we're old fogeys and the kids grow up with this as their natural, default interface.

Panglott said...

You might as well make the same argument for agriculture ;)

Personally, I can read faster than I can listen to radio or podcasts. If the task is skimming a dozen or two blogs for news, digital print wins. Similarly, it may be easier to reread a difficult passage than to ask a computer to replay it. And I would mistrust an AI explaining the passage even more than I would a human. Text is available for different reading strategies.

Also, writing is partly a process of organizing information: outlining ideas and linking them together in a coherent way. Copy and paste is pretty useful for this, and text-to-speech is a long way from replacing Wikipedia without textual editing.

I wonder how people would learn to do algebra without written symbol systems.

Keyboards and mice are buggy whips for sure, though, like typewriters. I just hope the holographic projectors of the future are easy on the eyes.

Chris said...

Panglott, that's a good point about algebra. It's true that visualizing words and symbols does help us organize them.

Matthew Sullivan said...

Unforeseeable at the moment because reading is the fastest way for people to take in information. If this remains the case, people will continue to write, just to know the manual way of making text.

Speech is faster than writing, but like others said, the auditory spectrum is pretty full -- everyone talking to and listening to machines would be very noisy.

Seems more likely brain wave reading could display writing (far off), though voice to text will improve undoubtedly.

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