Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 5th Jan 2017 23:02 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

In short, Amazon is building the operating system of the home - its name is Alexa - and it has all of the qualities of an operating system you might expect:

  • All kinds of hardware manufacturers are lining up to build Alexa-enabled devices, and will inevitably compete with each other to improve quality and lower prices.
  • Even more devices and appliances are plugging into Alexa's easy-to-use and flexible framework, creating the conditions for a moat: appliances are a lot more expensive than software, and much longer lasting, which means everyone who buys something that works with Alexa is much less likely to switch.

It's definitely an interesting case to make - and Ben Thomspon does it well - but I still have a very, very hard time seeing voice-driven interfaces as anything but a gimmick at this point in time. Every point I made about this subject in the Summer of 2016 still stands today - limited functionality, terrible speech recognition, inability to deal with dialects and accents, and the complete and utter lack of support for people who live multilingual lives.

I can't hammer this last point home often enough: not a single one of the voice-driven interfaces we have today - Alexa, Siri, Google Now, Google Assistant, Cortana, whatever - support multilingual use. Some of them may allow you to go deep into a menu structure to change input language (while some, like smartwatches, even require a full wipe and reset), but that's not a solution to the problem of switching language sometimes even several times a minute, something multilingual people have to do dozens of times every day. And again - there are literally hundreds of millions of people who lead multilingual lives.

Heck, Alexa is only available in English and German!

If voice-driven interfaces are really as important as people make them out to be, they've got at least a decade of development ahead of them before they become actually useful and usable for the vast majority of the world.

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Member since:

"I'm Dutch and don't really care whether or not my native tongue survives much longer.

Luckily, it will survive for a few generations more. There's no sign of it dying out. I find it a pitty though you think of Dutch that way
Languages die all the time. It is a process similar to natural selection. We'll go on without them and we'll be fine.

"I also don't care (...) I don't care

You don't seem to care a lot.

Yeah, I use the phrase in this instance as shorthand for "I have heard this particular argument used before more than once and personally attach no value to it".

"that there are languages that have a more consistent grammatical structure, and fewer exceptions.

So you're not a language person, I get it.

I'm not sure that would be a fair assessment. I have had more exposure to a selection of different languages than a lot of other people. I can admire the logical structure of German or French and still feel that it would be in the best interest of future German and French young people to become first tier English users.

"English is now the language of commerce, science and popular culture, and it is good enough.

It's good enough for commerce, science and popular culture, but:

We can import the missing words like Schadenfreude and let other languages fade away.

This is a great misconception. Culture shapes languages, in more than just words. There are (set) expressions too, and different registers and so on and so forth. All of that will be gone. Not to mention all the untranslated stuff like lyrics, poetry and literature.

If the words of Dostoyevsky or Sun Tzu have true value then that value should remain apparent in translation to English. Study French chansons and Japanese Haikus in history class if you must. Do your children a favor and do not send them into the world (or onto the Internet) held back by a limited grasp of the English language.

"Let's teach everyone the world over how to speak English and give everyone a chance to participate on an equal footing, rather than teach our machines to perpetuate these historical curiosities.

I agree everyone should be taught English, but only as a lingua franca, not as a native language.

Ah well. Not in my lifetime. But a man can dream.

Yes you can, but I don't see what you have to gain from everyone speaking only one language, over a situation where everyone speaks their native, local language and English as a lingua franca.

That said, the idea that it would be feasible to have seven billion people speaking natively the same language is unattainable. Even in the US you see different accents emerging, and in a 1000 years time that will be different languages, getting a situation where everyone speaks the "standard" English language plus their local one, comparable to the current situation in many (if not all) European and Asian countries.

Obviously what I advocate is to put the lingua franca first and to have 'mother tongue' as an optional cultural enrichment program. And I personally don't mind Australian, South African, Singlish, Ebonics or Minnesotean. I think that stuff is charming. Many concerned parents do, however.

Edited 2017-01-06 16:34 UTC

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