What About Us? Technology Advancement is Everywhere Except…

This is more of a personal post, a bit of a departure from the ones I have previously written.

These days, I read a lot about using AI, voice recognition, machine learning to create digital assistants. Google and Amazon are releasing more and more gadgets that interact more seamlessly with humans.

But I think now these are just novelties, for those that are pioneers, tech enthusiasts.

The people that probably need it the most, those that would be most helped are left behind. Specifically, people with disabilities.

I am now deaf but I have always been interested in technology and how it can help me. That’s why I’ve loved and been programming since I was 6.

So you can take this post as more of a personal call directed at tech companies.

I will primarily focus on Google as I use their services the most so most familiar with. But I am willing to use any good product from any company that is willing to help… and not charge me an arm and a leg for an ancient device.

First, some background

I lost hearing more than 5 years ago, just as I graduated from college. I also have a serious but rare medical condition (Neurofibromatosis Type 2).

I actually had another seizure last night and if I weren’t still living with my parents, I would’ve probably been in a lot of trouble…

Back then, I knew about speech recognition, in terms of the tech, but their accuracy was really bad. Back then we didn’t have the cloud and only had dial-up. It has gotten a lot better very very quickly though as the technology is now everywhere.

But how they can be used to help people like me seems to be mostly ignored.

There are some niche services over the last few years that address certain problems, like Ava, which I do appreciate. But I think large tech companies like Google are more well positioned and have the resources to solve a lot more… if only they paid attention and tried to learn about our problems.

Real Virtual Assistants (Google Home, Amazon Echo)

So these are the obvious ones. Home automation and virtual assistants are great, but how will they help me? I can ask all the questions I want, but I can’t hear them.

First major complaint: Why is sound the only interface? How hard is it to hook it up to a monitor or allow it to send messages to my smartphone?

But there are many other problems that could be addressed. And I think a lot of other people like me would agree.

I want to be independent

I am OK like 90% of the time… and I think you can tell I am perfectly sane and rational.

I want to live in an apartment in the city where I have a shorter commute (I cannot drive), but there are a few problems and concerns.

(Other than my parents, I don’t really have any friends I can depend on. A lot of them drifted away after I lost hearing…)

Anyway, let’s list some of the problems I’ve though about:

  • How do I know someone is at the door, ringing the doorbell?
  • How can I be sure I didn’t leave the water running?
  • How will I hear a smoke alarm?
  • Sometimes my memory it’s dodgy. I don’t remember if I’ve taken my medication, Home could remind me and I just say “OK” or “Delay for X mins”

It could also help with monitoring

I think this has application for all old people… that don’t need or want to be in a retirement home.

  • If it hears any strange sounds or maybe even “sees” that I’m acting strange, it could alert my parents or a nurse at the main building… or even 911
  • Every morning, it could do a safety check, are you up yet? And perhaps take a picture to send to whoever is monitoring me.
  • At night, it could make sure I return home or send me a text asking if I’m OK, going to be late, when will I be back?

There are just so many ways a smart home/assistant could help people like me. But there seems to be no attention paid to these problems.

Moreover, isn’t this what a true virtual assistant should be able to do?

Call To Action

I know about all the advances in Machine Learning and Google’s TensorFlow. Also with how Android can respond to “OK Google”, why can’t I train Google Home to alert me when it hears certain sounds?

I’ve actually chatted with one of their sales reps. Basically the answer was “maybe some time later”. Well given they’ve already built 90% the solution, I’m pretty sure they could add a lot of these with not much effort.

But here’s my point, it’s about time we get an upgrade. Devices for the disabled are pretty much owned by a few companies. They’re basically a monopoly because there isn’t any real competition.

As you can see these are so 10–20 years ago… except they cost way more than what they are worth.

It’s a monopoly. There is no competition and not enough demand for change, so no need for improvements.

Sure for tech companies, there’s not much profit in this area compared to the main business, but what happened to “Don’t be evil”? There’s always talk about social responsibility, so why not pick these low hanging fruits?

Self-driving cars are also great but it will probably take at least another decade before they’re on the roads. On the other hand, everything I have mentioned, and probably a lot more, can be done NOW!