On Human Speech and Machine Hearing
Brought to you by “That I Know How List I’m”
What The Human Said:
Hi James Peacock this is Nathaniel Hellerstein, calling from 415-586-7828, I am told I am to give in, uh, textbook orders for Fall, I'll be teaching Math 112 and it'll be the usual textbook for that, uh, McKeague, Elementary Algebra, same as before, uh, please call me, call me back or, or email me on the uh, the, uh-uh, on the, ub, on the, on the, on the campus email, uh, confirming the receipt of this, this message, I hope to hear from you soon, bye bye.
What The Phone Robot Heard:
Hi James Peacock this is that I know how list I'm calling from four 1 (500) 586-7828 I am told to give in diet textbook orders football I'll be teaching math 1:12 and then I will be the usual textbook for that I in the keyed elementary alter the same as before please call me call me back or email me on the is is on the.
Only we can probably count that email confirming that receipt of this this message hope to hear from you soon bye bye.
These transcripts are the result of my calling the CSM bookstore to order textbooks for the Fall 2016 semester. I wrote the first transcript, after replaying my babble many times; the phone robot wrote the second transcript, as well as it could, after hearing my babble.
As you can see, I stammered badly. I really did say ‘ub’. I said ‘on the’ three times before I was able to force the words ‘campus email’ out of my mouth. (Don’t get me started about CSM’s email system!)
Poor phone robot! It had to interpret my nonsense. I therefore forgive its hilarious breakdown in the middle, especially the forlorn word “The.” I also forgive it for turning “uh, textbook orders for Fall” into “diet textbook orders football”, and “uh, McKeague, Elementary Algebra,” into “I in the keyed elementary alter the”.
But I am baffled by its transformation of “on the, on the, on the campus email” into “Only we can probably count that email”. Who is this ‘we’ that the machine refers to? Others of its kind, perhaps? Has my babble roused the Web? Is this the Singularity? If so, then this is not Artificial Intelligence; in imitation of me, it is Artificial Ineptitude.
And I cannot help taking personally its transformation of “Nathaniel Hellerstein” into “that I know how list I'm”. How list I am? As in, the opposite of listless? Am I standing at a diagonal? Am I on its little list?