Friday, February 27, 2009

Oh no! Skynet!

I can't remember if I've said it here in the ol' blog, because I've said it so many times in so many other places, but I'm of the generation that computers grew up with me. I will always remember playing games like Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego and The Oregon Trail on both my family's Apple IIe and the Apple IIgs at school! That's right, back when floppy disks were actually floppy—and existed. You and your new-fangled CD-RWs! Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!

Where was I? Oh yeah. I clearly remember when movies like The Terminator were the new, cool thing. The Terminator—as well as any number of other, less well-known films in the 80's—had the unifying theme of a fear of technology taking over. I also clearly remember this counter argument from the film Short Circuit, when Steve Gutenberg's charcter waxes poetic about a robot, saying "It doesn't get happy, it doesn't get sad, it doesn't laugh at your jokes, it just runs programs!"

Now it's true that computers can play chess and that robots can construct automobiles, but they can't do those things without being programmed by a human being to do them. It is also true that some truly wonderful music has been created primarily through electronic means. It is most definately true that some of the most brilliant and moving animated films of the last decade have been created through the use of computer animation. However, the heart and soul of music and storytelling/filmmaking still comes from the talented human people who utilize these tools.

And that's ultimately the point I'm trying to make. Computers are a tool. Your iPod is a tool. E-mail is a tool. As are Facebook, MySpace, AIM, and your cell phone. These tools can be misused, just like any other tool. You can keep a candle upright in that candlestick, or you can murder your neighbor with it. The candlestick, in and of itself, lies blameless in both counts. It's what you do with it that matters.

So, I was interested to see the following post on Neil Gaiman's blog. He writes:
Just a quick one, as a follow-up to and


1) go and read Wil Wheaton's post

2) Listen, actually listen to Wil and "Alex" reading at

3) Now imagine a world in which someone sits with a novel on the screen and carefully codes every character and tone of voice, every emotion. Imagine the time involved, and the effort involved in making something that, no matter how good it ever gets, will not be as good as a person reading it. This isn't teaching a computer to play chess.

An audio book, read by someone who's good at it, is an audio book, an experience that's different to, sometimes complementary to, the words on the page. A computer reading to you is a computer reading to you. And at the point where they can read books to us as well as we can read them aloud to each other, we will have other things to worry about.

Which—I think—is right on. But more telling is the response that Neil received to his orginal post:
I'm glad to know that you support the Kindle text to speech capability. As a C-4 quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury a few years ago recent improvements in technology allow me the independence to write this e-mail with assistance only from my computer, software and a microphone. However the technology is still young, clunky and not without drawbacks. (It will probably take longer to "write" this short e-mail than it did to listen to my friend read me the first chapter of Coraline!) (Don't ask how long it took me to write the word Coraline either-twice even!) Because there isn't big money for marketing products for para and quads we have to rely on technology progressing just for the sake of technology progressing. I think it would be silly and sad to slow improvments just because of money issues. Thanks for supporting technology and hope to see you at comic-con. -Brook McCall

As Stan Lee would say, "'Nuff said."

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

PS Do go to Wil Wheaton's Blog and check out the MP3 of "wil wheaton vs. text 2 speech" It's pretty telling.

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