Book review: Talk to Me

Talk to me

Talk to Me:
How Voice Computing Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Think
by James Vlahos
Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
336 pages


Buy the book

The title and subtitle give you an idea of the content. That’s exactly what it is, and much more.  
Talk to Me: How Voice Computing Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Think
is a mine of information, and up to date.

I loved the way the book was organized. Starting with the Visionaries (introduction, showing that these developments have been in the making for a while), it focused its three parts around Competition (the business perspective), Innovation (the technological perspective), and Revolution (“how voice technology is transforming the way we live”).

At some point, you could have thought that the future of computers was with touch screen. But we actually want to be able to interact with computers as we interact with people, that is, through speech:

What if people could access the riches of the digital world simply by having conversations, in everyday language, with someone who seemed like a friend?

The book features and explains about all kinds of technical fields and developments (chatbots, conversational artificial intelligence, artificial neural networks), companies, and the important people behind.
It highlights t
he importance of all the big actors (mostly Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) in the field, with their own AI or virtual assistants.

Every decade or so,  there is a tectonic shift in how people interact with technology.
We are entering the era of voice computing.
The advent of voice Computing is a watershed moment in human history because using words is the defining trait of our species.
Chapter 1

Voice is poised to significantly change how we know what we know.
Chapter 8

It was fascinating to see that “humans have a deep, longstanding obsession with talking objects” (chapter 4), going way back, with traces in Greek and Egyptian mythology. This historical chapter was so interesting and so informed on that!

The book is both fascinating and scary. Fascinating for making readers discover all the new opportunities these technologies offer, 

Voice, done right, has the potential to be the most naturalistic technology we have ever invented.
Last paragraph

but also scary, as ultimately, these technologies will and are already making their users able to so much edit reality (for instance with voice clones, see in chapter 9), that the limits between truth and untruth will be more and more blurred. It doesn’t bode well for civilization to be in the post-truth era, and with basically no training for discernment between the real and the fake.  

Voice devices all creating a snarl of new ethical and legal issues.

Voice assistants are becoming the thought police, and that could get dangerous.
Chapter 10

Besides, we are entering a blurred area, not only ethically speaking, but even ontologically speaking:

The technology is introducing us to third ontological category —  beings that are less than human but more than machines.”
Chapter 1

One aspect of that is the replicas and lifelike holograms, created to represent people after they die, opening a door to “virtual immortality” — an additional interesting sign proving that our society definitely has issues with death (see the author’s own experiment with his “Dadbot” in chapter 11).
On the positive side, we can use this in the art world. For instance, this Fall, the Lyric Opera of Chicago will feature a concert with Maria Callas, thanks to the hologram technology. I have seen previews, that’s eerily realistic!

And obviously, safety and security are becoming bigger issues than ever. As well as privacy and freedom:

“By buying a smart speaker, you’re effectively paying money to let a huge tech company surveil you.”
Adam Clark Estes, quoted in Chapter 10

The book contains many notes, documenting almost every line of the text!

VERDICT: Extremely well-documented and up-to-date research, showing where civilization is heading to, through current technological advances. 

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Any other recommendation of this topic?

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge from the publisher through Edelweiss. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


7 thoughts on “Book review: Talk to Me

  1. Your review totally sparked my interest. As you say, philosophy resides these days so much in the new technologies. Black Mirror is a show on Netflix that explores some of the dilemmas.

    The Maria Callas thing is eerie.

    I am keeping an eye on this title.


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