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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Post # 57 First Adventures in Voice Technology

I was born in the Midwest, and moved around quite a bit as a child.  Mostly, I lived in states where the regional accent was benign.  There was very little to make fun of, as far as accent goes.  Maybe I picked up a few words that were worthy of a joke, but I’ll discuss that later.

Now I live in South Texas.  And there is a bit of an accent down here, but it isn’t really obvious.  Not unless you’re a machine, that is.

Voice Technology began creeping into our cars sometime back in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  I recall when everyone crowded around a colleague’s car because the car would talk to him.  If he left the door open, the car told him about it.  We’d go stand around his car during lunch and make him open and close the car door until the battery ran down.

Then I bought my first car with OnStar.  The OnStar lady (notice how it’s always a woman’s voice?) could tell me where I was going.  For an extra fee, she’d let me make phone calls from the car.

I don’t know how Wife felt about me inviting this new female into our home, but I do know she was against my paying out good cash just so I could call her from the car to let her know I was on my way home from work. 

I ordered the service, anyway.

And it was pretty cool.  All I had to do was remember the phone number I wanted to call and tell OnStar.  She’d dial the number for me, and soon I’d be chatting away as I drove down the highway.

It took a little encouragement to get Wife to try out OnStar.  She thought it might be dangerous to try to talk on the phone while driving (she always was ahead of the game when it comes to safety).

Finally, she gave in and gave it a try.

Wife was born and raised in South Texas.  She has the South Texas accent.  Unfortunately, OnStar doesn’t understand South Texas very well.

Wife started out fine.  The area code and first three numbers went smoothly.  Then she got to a number that OnStar couldn’t interpret.  OnStar asked wife to repeat the number.

Wife repeated the number.

OnStar repeated the wrong number and asked if that was correct.

Wife told her “No!”

OnStar asked wife to repeat the number.

The two of them carried on this same conversation eight or nine more times.

Each time, Wife’s voice got a little louder.

OnStar remained inscrutable. 

Wife got closer and louder.

OnStar continued to make demands for Wife to repeat herself.

Wife ended up traveling 30 miles an hour down the road with her mouth three inches from the mirror. Oh, and that safety thing?  She was traveling down the center stripe!

It didn’t matter how loud Wife yelled, how much she changed her accent, how slowly she spoke, or how close she got to the mirror.  OnStar refused to understand.

I don’t think Wife ever spoke to OnStar again.  OnStar knew Wife didn’t trust her, didn’t like her.  So OnStar rebelled.  OnStar pretended she wasn’t bothered by Wife’s distrust of her.  She maintained a seemingly calm demeanor throughout the episode.  Still, I think OnStar was a little shaken.  She was never quite the same after that.

I soon learned that I couldn’t trust OnStar when wife was in the car with me.  OnStar tried to make me drive through a building in downtown Dallas once so I could get to the other side.  The road ended in a T intersection, and the building was in front of me.  OnStar insisted I drive straight ahead, through the building!

Of course, Wife was with me.  I think maybe she was just being obstinate.  I may have even heard a little giggle in her voice as she kept insisting that the road was really there, all I had to do was trust her and drive straight ahead.  Across traffic.  Up the stairs.  Through the lobby.  And out onto the other side.

I learned not to ask anything of OnStar when wife was in the car.