Back to the Future Movie Poster“What do you mean ‘Time Circuits On’?
Doc, we’re not goin’ back now!”
– Marty McFly in Back to the Future

An article featured in the MIT Technology Review, “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2016,” looks at the some exciting emerging technologies, some of which are expected to launch in the near future. These include the following:

  1. Power from the Air – Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals that will pave the way for the diffusion of small computers and sensors.
  2. DNA App Store – an online store that will enable people to find out about their genes, making it cheap and easy to learn more about predispositions for health conditions.
  3. Immune Engineering that will hopefully enable genetically engineered immune cells to save the lives of cancer patients and people suffering from other critical health issues.
  4. Conversational Interfaces – Powerful speech technology that makes it easy to use a smartphone. The article mentions a bustling city in China where the majority of smartphone owners use their devices with their voice, rather than their hands. Speech adoption has been especially high in China, because tiny keyboards aren’t compatible with the country’s linguistic complexity. Speech has provided an immediate solution and adoption is widespread. A key spokesperson from a leading Chinese search engine explains, “speech is approaching a point where it could become so reliable that you can just use it and not even think about it […].

In this age of “information overload,” taking a few steps back can be interesting as we watch groundbreaking development being made and anticipate meaningful changes to our lives.

Plato and Writing as Technology

According to Plato, Socrates – the father of Western Philosophy – held the opinion that entrusting one’s thoughts to writing was for those with limited intellect. This statement is quite a paradox, since the reason we mention Socrates at all is due to Plato’s writing about him. In ancient Greece, writing was considered groundbreaking technology. Texts were only available to the most eminent Athenian citizens. Plato and Socrates may have worried that this new medium could wreak havoc on thought itself. In a nutshell, the concepts that Plato was conveying through his master, Socrates, was that writing cannot help people remember per se, but rather it reminds them of their thoughts, experiences, plans, etc. And who hasn’t scribbled notes in a hurry, only to find them difficult to understand days, months, years…later?

Plato was convinced that no serious philosopher would risk using writing to communicate articulated meaning to others. The Platonic discourse suggests that the journey towards wisdom is in fact a kind of live Q&A, in which an individual gradually journeys from a negative state of confusion towards finding the reassurance of certainties that will bring him closer to wisdom.

With the premise that writing is not associated with individuals with limited intellectual capability, what we can take away from Plato’s assertions is that writing does not actually help our brains remember information – it contains the information, which we can access when we want to. The term “writing” refers to a code that requires deciphering in order to be interpreted. This process may vary according to the person involved, or even vary in a certain individual, according to the circumstances she finds herself in. In other words, we’re looking at a mechanism for preserving information.

We began communicating with sounds, utterances, gestures, body language, speech and drawn signs, to name but a few. Over time, our cultures developed natural language (e.g. natural, spoken English, Spanish, French and sign language for the natural languages, but also body language, cultural facial expressions etc.) and artifactual language (writing, mathematical symbols, musical notation). The latter all require man-made artefacts to produce. For more information on this subject, click here.

Speech followed a natural evolution, whereas writing was the result of what we may refer to as nurtured evolution.

Turning Plato’s sweeping statements into more acceptable terms: Let’s assume that writing complements speech.

Evidence indicates that natural language evolved mainly to enable communication between people. Artifactual language was developed to represent people’s ideas and experiences and to preserve them.

Plato writes that if one asks writing a question, writing will not respond. That was then. In today’s Digital Age, representations of thoughts, experiences, images and gestures are stored and readily accessible. Plato and Socrates’ minds would boggle! But as it is with all things, the excess of data in our technological era carries with it a sense of confusion that’s often overwhelming. Plato has been dead for over 2300 years. Today, the most forward-thinking minds are having conversations with written content, which is answering back thanks to accurate, lifelike text to speech.

Back to the Future of Speech Technology

If we were to go back to the future now, we’d benefit from the support of synthetic speech voices to guide us. In the third millennium – with information overload increasingly commonplace – adding text-to-speech (TTS) capability is a simple, effective way to improve accessibility for any kind of device or application, whether it’s embedded in a special watch designed to ensure time-travellers get to a certain place at a critical time, or whether it’s a talking, self-driving super-car.

Among the leading innovators, IVONA delivers proven TTS solutions, with 51 unique text-to-speech voices in 22 major languages. IVONA Text to Speech is easy to implement, versatile, and designed to work with the most popular devices on the market.