In the future, we will shout at machines (even more than we do today)

New father Charlie Brooker has caught himself shouting at the machines in his life, given the matter careful consideration, and decided that it's OK -- more than OK, really. For Brooker, the future will involve lots of shouting at machines. Makes me wonder if there isn't something to be said for designing machines that understand why you're shouting at them.

I used to play vertical-scrolling shoot-em-ups in which a blizzard of angry pixels swirled around the screen like a synchronised galaxy impersonating a flock of starlings, accompanied by a melodic soundtrack of pops and whistles apparently performed by an orchestra of frenzied Bop-It machines. But at least then you could press pause. Now I find it hard to cope with seeing a banner ad slowly fading from red to green while the The One Show's on in the background, which is why over the past few weeks I've ratcheted down my engagement with anything not made of wood. There's a baby to attend to, and his old man needs a lie down.

Because the alternative is to surround myself with technology designed specifically for shouting at. And that's the more uplifting feature of the horrible future I pictured for this baby I'm talking about, the baby I vowed to never mention in print because to do so would instantly mark me out as a prick: in the future, we'll have specially designed anguish-venting machines – unfeeling robots wearing bewildered faces for older people to scream into like adult babies, just to let out all the stress caused by constant exposure to yappering, feverish stimuli. Tomorrow will consist of flashing lights and off-the-shelf digital punchbags, consumed by a generation better equipped to deal with it than me, which won't matter because by then I will have withdrawn entirely from the digital world: an old man, enjoying his lie down.

It's OK to shout at machines – in fact, in the future some of us will find it necessary (via Making Light)

(Image: Shout, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from garryknight's photostream)


  1. In engineering school we actually had a class in shouting at machines, with judicious application of swear words.  Turns out, it can have a big effect and sometimes cause a repair.

  2. Ginsberg shouted at machines fifty-plus years ago.
    He was quite prescient, Ginsberg was. I don’t think
    he was a dad, but he’s sometimes known as the Father of a Generation

    “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrap-
    ers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose
    factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and
    antennae crown the cities!”

  3. I scream advice and obscenities at book characters when I’m reading.  Seems reasonable to transfer that fury to the microwave.

      1. I hiss at the ads before the movie. I don’t scream at the screen during the film unless it’s an appropriate venue/occasion.

      2. Some guy, can’t remember his name, was watching some submarine adventure film, when a chunk of iceberg broke off and fell on top of the sub.  As a reflex, the guy stood up and yelled something along the lines of “Oh come ON! Ice floats! Ice floats!”

        The theater audience cracked up in laughter and applause, and the guy was bitten by the bug.  Soon after, he published a book about science errors in films.

        Anyone remember his name, the title of his book?

        1. I enjoy things like that! What I don’t enjoy is people yelling at the screen, to the characters, “THE KILLER IS BEHIND THE DOOR! DON’T GO IN THE ROOM! AHHHH!”

          1. Thank you for saying that. I did not see what the issue was because I assumed (I know, I know) the chunk just fell off the top of the iceberg onto the sea-surface, coincidentally occupied by a passing submarine. Never occurred to me the sub was under the berg and the berg shed off the bottom.

          2. You know, the film could very well be “Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea” from 1961.  Calculated guess, don’t bet the farm on it.

    1. Using the damned contraption as proxy, I scream at the engineers who designed it.  So if I did what you do, I’d be yelling at the author.

  4. II don’t remember the name of the game demo, tell me if you know what it’s called, and let me briefly describe it:

    I think it was called an affect dependent system. The premise and main character was an 11 or 12 year old boy who had moved from London to the country farm, and was exploring his new home, and the player interacted with him to help influence his moral and ethical decisions, which carried on to future personality later in the game. It used the kinect heavily to record and recognize affectation.

    If I recall correctly, there was a game scenario early on, where he finds a snail, and is about to heelsmash it, and he dares you “should I squish it?” and if you yell at him, he’ll get sullen and not do it. If you calmly tell him he shouldn’t, he won’t and won’t be offended. If you tell him calmly to do it he’ll get creeped out by you, and have a bad relationship with you and won’t trust you during the game. If you get worked up and tell him to do it, he’ll do it and treat you like a buddy or peer for the rest of the game, instead of an authority figure, which you were up until then.

    I think affect responsive systems could be both very good for mentally healthy people, and disastrously destructive for the mentally ill. Although I can imagine therapeutic uses in carefully monitored and programed cases

    1. That seems like something SkyNet created to trick humans into training machines how to pass the Voight-Kampff test.

  5. Unhappy Mknam, UNHAPPY MKNAM

    You have violated Robots Rules of Order

    and will be asked to leave The Future immediately

    (dec-10 eliza error msgs, FS thtr: ithnkwrallbozsnthsbus, why does the porridge bird lay it’s eggs in the air?!!)

    I’m sorry

    this ride is closed.

  6. Oh, goody. More new parents compulsively mentioning their babies while prefacing with “I promised I would not mention my new babies but it’s been X days since said unmentionable new babies were born and though I had fully intended not to mention said babies, circumstances are such that I must — I must!” Because really, we are talking about shouting at machines. Who in good conscience could omit the babies?

  7. My brother worked on machines that tried to understand why you’re shouting at them when he was at MIT’s Affective Computing group. They’re still doing a lot of work on trying to get computers to sense emotional cues. 

  8. To hell with shouting. I’d like a divorce from machines. The more electronical gadgets I f_k around with the more I like my banjo, my garden hoe, my bicycle, my cat. But I’m still going to get in an episode of Burn Notice on my bedroom computer before I go to sleep.

  9. Too late to patent it! Robert Sheckley, A Ticket to Tranai  (1955):

    The robots are designed to  squeak, lurch and be generally annoying, encouraging people to smash them.  This has considerable benefits in stress relief and stimulating the market for replacement robots. The hero of the story works on designing a brittle plastic casing that will shatter with the first kick…

  10. Didn’t car alarms kind of warn people to keep away from vehicles about 10-15 years ago, with a recorded voice, or was that some kind of remote-controlled thing that I didn’t recognize? (Or my faulty memory embroidering the past?)

    An empty car seemed to honk at me as I walked past in a parking lot a few days ago. I realized it was remotely triggered, someone opening the trunk or starting their vehicle or whatever, but my initial thought was to say, “You don’t honk at me, motherfucker!” to the car, as I’ve said before.

    Right then I had an epiphany about Star Wars. This is why Luke and all the other heroes treat droids like crap (and like slaves). These humans  live in a drastically unequal society with people giving them orders or treating them like crap daily. When machines try to give them orders or advice, that shit rolls down hill. Living under the boot of the Stormtroopers or the Empire, they can’t take it out on the people who deserve their animosity, so they take it out on droids, especially whining pedants like C3PO.

    1. Didn’t car alarms kind of warn people to keep away from vehicles about 10-15 years ago, with a recorded voice,

      I’ve not heard this on an alarm, but buses and trucks sometimes have a recorded voice saying ‘this vehicle is reversing’. (And the Montego had a ‘talking dashboard’ in the mid 80s).

    2. I realized it was remotely triggered, someone opening the trunk or starting their vehicle or whatever, but my initial thought was to say, “You don’t honk at me, motherfucker!” to the car, as I’ve said before.

      I remember my drafting teacher apologizing to a drafting table after he bumped into it. We all laughed, but half the class thought that it was good manners anyway.

  11. Shouting? I used to BEAT my machines. Well more like bitch-slap them. I have had more than one CRT over the years that was brought back to proper function by a well-placed smack upside the monitor frame. Don’t try this on your flat-screen.

    CPU enclosures themselves were subject to various physical disciplines from constant poking with the boot toe due to bad desk design, to repeated fist pounding on the side to get a daughtercard to boot properly.

    Physical machine abuse is much more satisfying than wasting your voice on them.

  12. I love that quote. “most reasonable adults can resist the urge to fling the child across the room”. So there are cases where reasonable adults fling children across the room?

    As a rant the article is okay.  Otherwise, I’d advice anger management training or buying better software. 

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