A Vote for Voice

Superman fans may recall the impish character Mr. Mxyzptlk. Spelling the name, let alone pronouncing it, sometimes seems less difficult than remembering computer log-ins.

How many hours are wasted by users who have forgotten log-ins and passwords, and repeatedly try different combinations, then bail, using the buttons available for those who have forgotten the keys?

Given the need for security and the proliferation of places where a password is needed--health systems, alumni associations, clubs, frequent travel programs, and on and on--it is small wonder that security is compromised by users who give up for something they can remember, not one of those Mxyz7ptlk strong passwords with letters and numbers that are recommended by the vendors. Or they use the same password in every system, also not recommended.

The system doesn't work and is unlikely to work well because it is too hard for people to follow easily. Short of thumbprint recognition or retinal scans, which seem more complicated and which the paranoid part of me keeps thinking will turn out to cause cancer, the only technology I can think of that offers real promise is voice recognition.

Can individual systems recognize individual voices? I have no idea about the state of the technology. But it seems the ideal solution. Saying "Hi" to the computer in the morning is a lot easier than typing in coded passwords, and trying to figure out if the word was typed correctly after the computer rejects it.

We should be able to look to a future where someday, the voice id is entered at a local computer and it can be stored for distribution to the places where its use is required.

Could there be a world out there in which not only does the voice give the user access, but is the preferred command vehicle for setting preferences in an application like Microsoft Word? That would bring an end to spending too much time trying to figure out the difference between "Customize" and "Options" and being expected to remember an ever-expanding series of features.

Strangle that animated paper clip Microsoft invented and put in something more useful like an ear that can hear a message such as "Make the font Arial, the point size 12, double space paragraphs, indent five characters, and kill all active hyperlinks." The recording is stored in a .wav file that can be mailed to any computer in which the user can work remotely (think trade shares) and establishes all preferred settings in the appropriate application.

Ideally, it also follows your handheld device (which probably ends up being reached an IP address not a phone number anyway), so that you can ask the device to retrieve a file from your office computer for on-screen browsing. "Get yesterday's version of the letter to Smith." "I don't like that. Roll back to the prior version."

Practical, I don't know. But maybe we can reach that day when you can turn to a newfound associate and say, "Have your computer call my computer."

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