It's so cool when science fiction becomes science fact. Unless it goes horribly wrong. Think Arthur C. Clarke's HAL 9000 in the Space Odyssey series. At this week's Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronic Conference in Detroit, engineers, technologists and executives are discussing ways to integrate the latest advances in computer technology with your automobile, while hopefully making them less sociopathic. One particular discussion has focused on voice recognition and the way the car responds with its own voice commands. Of particular concern here is the mood of the driver in determining the tone of voice used by the computers when offering prompts.

The way the car talks back, whether or not it is sensitive to the driver's feelings, recognizing when it's a bad time to speak, these are some of the concerns for programmers. Robert Sicconi of IBM says perfecting these aspects of voice-recognition systems is crucial before they become more widely available in cars. "It's about making sure it works. We don't want the buyer to say, 'This car is a jerk.' If you just found out your best friend died, you might not want a cheerful voice speaking to you," he says.

The main concern here is driver distraction. Systems that allow more conversational speech, next-generation voice-recognition systems that should be available by 2009, should detect the driver's emotional state and make adjustments. Switching back and forth among different "personalities" to reflect a mood should help make the new systems easier to deal with. The prediction is that by 2011, knowledge management such as route planning in the navigation system will be the norm. "The next step after that will be recognizing when it's a bad time to speak to the driver. We will need to gather input from the car in terms of speed, steering, braking," Sicconi says. "The system shouldn't distract the driver at a critical time."

"This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it, Dave."
- HAL 9000 in "2001: A Space Odyssey"

[Source: Wards Auto]