Can <em>your</em> phone SEE what you're saying?

Since I don't have a smartphone (and am not in the market for one), I don't typically care what new features get put into the latest models. That is, unless it is cool and interesting.

When I first saw commercials for the Apple iPhone S and Siri, I thought it must have been a recreation of the technology to get market buzz. When I figured out the scenes were portraits of reality, I took notice and marvelled at such a cool feature.

Today, I read some speculative articles and rumors about Google getting ready to release their competitive product, Majel. This is named after Majel Barrett-Rodenberry who provided the voice of the computer in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Beyond the appropriate name, I was thinking "Ho hum, another voice activated search tool."

Then I read some of the "details" published on the site. The most interesting point for me is in the second-to-last paragraph attributed to "anonymous Googler" touting the reasons for higher expected performance of Majel over normal speech recognition: "...mostly because of the use of high quality microphones and lip-reading assistance." [Emphasis is mine]

Regardless of whether or not this turns out to be true, it's one of those cool Star Trek technology ideas! Being able to read lips with a handheld device would  have so many benefits and uses.

Being able to understand spoken commands more reliably by the device is good and functional. Why couldn't you turn the camera outward to act as an aid to the hearing-impaired? This seems like it would be a great help for older citizens that have lost their hearing or when encountering people that do not know how to sign.  I hold my device so that it can see the speaker's face when they talk and a transcript of their words appears on the screen facing me. Maybe even translating from their language to mine?

And I haven't even had time to think about all the James Bond uses for such portable technology. All football coaches will need a clipboard to cover their mouths when calling in plays to keep fans or spies from the other team being able to discern what they say.

What's next?

  • Facial recognition? If I'm at a party and I want to be sure to meet someone that I've not met, I could put in some pictures, have my device stuck in my pocket scanning people as I walk around the party and give me a signal when I am close to the object of my search.

  • Finding separated members of your party in a crowd? If we arrange to meet at Splash Molehill at 1pm, but I can't tell if anyone else is close, I hold my device over my head and rotate slowly to scan the crowd. If anyone is recognized, I get a signal and an indication of where they are.

  • Or assessing the identity and potential value of objects in a previously locked room? (My wife and I have become fans of Storage Wars.) It would be cool if a device can scan a room, postulate the identity of items that can be seen and render a value of those objects from Interwebs search.

I may not be getting a smartphone anytime soon (or ever), but I'm still fascinated by what technology is being built into handheld devices that even 5 year ago seemed to require much more computational power than  you could hold in the palm of your hand.