Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cookies and Airlocks—The Perils and Virtues of Voice Commands

A six-year-old girl in Texas was delighted when the family received an Echo Dot for a holiday gift. It features Alexa, the digital assistant that answers questions and handles calendars, etc. The girl asked Alexa questions about cookies and a dollhouse.

The next thing you know, Amazon delivered four pounds of cookies and a $170 dollhouse. Alexa had interpreted the conversation as an order.

All this goes to show the danger of voice commands. It also serves as a segue to an excerpt from my latest science fiction manuscript, Alpha Shift.

 photo by Constantin Barbu 
“Emergency shutdown of docking.” Akajima spoke slowly and clearly into the arm of his chair. The ship’s systems were mostly not operated by voice commands, since past experience had shown that an officer lecturing his crew on how to fire weapons could have disastrous results.

But officers could still speak certain emergency measures into life.

A watch stander jerked his head at a monitor. “Shutdown confirmed.”

Akajima knew that in that distant part of the ship a sheet of metal as thick as the hull had rammed down at great speed in front of the airlock, sealing off the ship from its connection with the shuttle. It didn’t matter if the armor detected by the scan was armored crewmen coming out of the cylinder into the main part of the shuttle in order to board the Panama, or an armored crawler meant to speed its way through the passageways. They were denied.

His next words were addressed to the appropriate crew around him. “Action Stations Yellow. All off-duty personnel confined to their berthing compartments.”

Flashing amber lights and a shrill alarm assaulted the senses—not just any alarm, but discordant high notes mixed with simulated baby screams that threatened to crack the brain case of all who heard. Some off-duty crew had been known to sleep through fistfights in their berthing compartments, but this combination of nightmare sounds would jolt them off the bunks. 

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