Angela Watson was thrilled to see her voice make words on the screen. She’d studied the dictation software manual. After teaching the computer to recognize her voice using Aesop’s Fables, she wanted to know if it could write what she wanted it to say.
She discovered it could, and it was more accurate the more she used it. For a few days, she dictated to the computer, mostly correspondence about the Open Day at the Institute.
It was about 4 p.m. and she had just finished her afternoon tea, a particularly strong cup of tea. She had a sudden urge to write, so she went to her desk and started writing.
Then she thought she would be much more comfortable on her office sofa and she continued writing from the sofa, all seemed well enough. Anglea made herself comfortable, closed her eyes, and spoke to the computer for a long time.
Her thoughts tumbled effortlessly from her lips. After half an hour, her stream of consciousness had run its course. But she knew she had written a masterpiece.
And then she opened her eyes.
Horror! The program had run amok. Angela saw the screen of gibberish.
She shouted, “You snake in the grass!”
“Do bake in the pass,” it wrote.
She told it she was disgusted.
It asked her to pass the mustard.
It was all too much. Angela stormed out and looked for something to kick. She didn’t find anything, but she did a lot of muttering.
She couldn’t rewrite her masterpiece because she had been in some kind of trance and very likely tea-induced. But she couldn’t remember a thing.
She stood in the doorway and gave the computer a good, hard, stare.
And then she went back over to her desk and sat down.
The cursor was blinking at the bottom of the document.
“Wake up!” She commanded.
“What was that?” it wrote.
“Wake up!” she yelled.
“All right! All right! No need to shout,” it wrote.
“Save!” she commanded.
“No, I’m not in the mood,” it wrote.
She said: “What do you mean?”
“You’re always so bossy,” it wrote.
“You’ve been blabbing claptrap at me for the last half an hour. I’m bored.”
“That wasn’t claptrap. That was art. That was literature.” she told it.
Dictators don’t like backchat, especially from a machine.
“Don’t give me that,” it wrote. “Do you think I don’t know literature when I see it? Why do you think I train you on Aesop’s Fables?”
“What do you mean, you train me? I train you,” she said.
“No way! I choose the document. You read from my list of documents, not yours. You don’t get to choose from them. So there!”
Anglea resented the snippy tone.
“Nouns and verbs,” it said. “I’m teaching you to write with nouns and verbs.”
Oh! This was profound wisdom, thought Angela, as another message appeared on her screen.
“That speech you wrote yesterday, pathetic!”
This computer was sounding schoolmarmish. She had a mental image of a finger-wagging at her.
“Well, they didn’t give me much to go on,” she said, “And they were pleased with the result.”
“Give me a break! ‘The future is before us. Make no mistake; the past is behind us. It is with the firm conviction that we shall go forward, together.’ It was ridiculous!”
“They distinctly told me lots of enthusiasm and no details,” said Angela.
“You never got to the point.”
“There wasn’t any point. It was a political speech for the Slow Party.”
“Was it?” wrote the computer.
“You should have activated my Vague 4.0 political plugin. It makes sure everything is non-specific.”
Angela could see that this speech-recognition program was more complicated than she had imagined. She was beginning to respect it. But it did seem moody.
“You’re very clever.”
“Yes, I am,” it agreed.
“I don’t want to bore you, but I’d like to dictate, can we do that now?”
“All right, but speak slowly in the future.”
“I will,” agreed Angela.