Viridian Note 00198: Viridian Neologue Contest

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts
Viridian contest, verbal interface, speech recognition engines, design, techno-art, Natalie Jeremijenko

Attention Conservation Notice: It's another in our series of Viridian design contests.

Missing our usual dire Greenhouse alarmism in this cheery, upbeat note? Well, have a look at this: "The Global Warming Debate Is Over. It's Real, Inexorable, and Headed Our Way"

The Viridian Neologue Contest

Even supercomputers still can't "talk," because they can't understand human language. However, voice recognition has made remarkable strides.

This opens a new possibility: creating very small fragments of human language for use with a small gizmo. Forget the talking Coke machine or the robo-feminine seat- belt warning. Those crude applications merely emitted pre-recorded bursts of canned speech. We now face the prospect of newfangled gadgets that can listen to you and mechanically respond.

These machines would recognize certain words or brief catch-phrases, and use them as an interface trigger.

They employ the ISD-SR3000 Embedded Speech Recognition Engine for command and control applications, which was released in late 1999, and has so far found its primary market niche in Panasonic cell phones. However, Viridian fellow-travellers from the legendary Bureau of Inverse Technology have come into possession of a number of these objects. Hence our new contest: finding incredibly cool things for them to do.

These Recognition Engines are rather sophisticated devices. They respond to a spoken word or very short phrase, and send along an electrical signal. With the proper wiring installed, this signal could activate pretty much any switch, trigger, key, button, sensor, lever, and/or actuator on some already existing machine. (As a further plus, the chips can also emit human-sounding speech!)

The Viridian Neologue Contest therefore asks the cogent question: "When Things Start to Listen, what do you say to them?" Our aim in this design contest is to invent feasible, verbal/mechanical situations that carry this technology to fantastic, unheard-of, cyber-surreal realms.

This is a conceptual art design contest. You must coin some imaginative word or short phrase, and briefly describe its application to some real-world machine. Your phrase and its application should be so technically insightful and so artistically striking that they startlingly illuminate the vista of possibility opened by this new variety of human/machine interaction.

Furthermore, as a special plus, we plan to actually make one of these babies, in a top-end academic design lab on America's glamorous East Coast! That's right! A Viridian Imaginary Product that actually exists as a blobject d'art!

A few potential examples:

  1. State "bang," and fireworks go off downstairs.

  2. When your dog growls in a certain way, his collar says aloud, "I am your loyal servant."

  3. The building's elevator operates if you state 'Up' or 'Down' == but only in correct, Castilian Spanish.

  4. The household lights flare up when you clap your hands amid a racket of party noise, and yell "Green Power Rules Okay!"

Unlike most Viridian contests, this one requires no webpage from participants. All you need do is merely email in a brief, cogent description of your concept and its trigger word or phrase. Nor is this a particularly "green" contest. Many green applications (such as #4) obviously spring to mind, but our basic aim here is to seriously stretch the public imagination and really blow the doors off the baby-carriage of this infant technology.

Keep in mind that our eventual goal is here a working proof-of-concept. This means a real, functional device, which with any luck will really be created, with an actual speech chip hardwired to some actual machine. So we want to stay in the realm of physical practicality here, as opposed to sheer sci-fi freewheeling, such as "Whenever I say, 'I'm bored,' a nuclear holocaust ensues.'" Oh yes, clearly that's theoretically possible with this technology, but we're aiming for a design installation, something that everyday people can really touch and properly marvel at.

Consider yourself formally restricted to the lab resources and bench-space realistically available to real- life engineers at a real-life New York university.

This unique Viridian Contest comes complete with its own judge, Dr Natalie Jeremijenko of the Center for Advanced Technology, NYU. Dr Natalie, who teaches engineering and is an internationally known techno-artist, is in possession of the hardware and a solder gun. This naturally makes her the Guest Viridian Pope-Empress for this particular effort. All her decisions will be final.

Some enlightening examples of her uniquely Jeremijenkonian sensibility can be found at:

People who enter a Viridian Contest receive a valuable and prestigious star <*> for their log-in name.

The winner of the Viridian Neologue Contest receives a fab digital notetaker with which to capture all those inspired commands in their native medium. It's an ergonomically blobby Olympus V-90 Digital Voice Recorder!

This contest ends on Halloween, October 31, 02000. Good luck!

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