Stuttering and the Robot Invasion

I mentionned this bit of news yesterday on Twitter:


It’s happening. Slowly the robots are taking over. We’re headed for that Terminator-like future.

But seriously, there’s a lot of automation going on these days.

I talked before about how technology helps those of us who stutter. And using it to sidestep a day of human interaction.

Today though I wanted to talk about the other side of it — when those of us who stutter may have to interact with the robots — with few other options.

Take this Lowe’s robot for instance. I’ll admit it’s pretty cool. On a good day I’d love to interact with this thing. But I’m like you — I spend an hour walking up and down the aisles of the Big Box just to avoid asking someone where something is. I can find it myself! But you can’t do that with kids (I seem to say this a lot) — because they’ll keep bothering you about asking someone for help. Or they’ll have to go to the bathroom. In which case you’ll at least go to a part of the store you haven’t been to before.

Actually, now that I think about it, kids are the answer, aren’t they? Why do I have to talk to the robot once it accosts me in the store? Why not have the kids do it? And while they’re being distracted by Shiny and New, I’ll sneak off and look at faucets.

The robots in the Big Box stores do make sense. And where else can they go? What about the Big Box Bookstore? I wonder if they only do voice recognition, or if you can just start pushing its touchscreen. So you could search a book on it, and then have it take you to the book. (I’d of course never do this because the point of going to a bookstore is to wander around aimlessly).

At the airport? For check-in? I don’t see why not. It’d scan your documents, scan your face, and then take your luggage. I suppose you could get around telling it where you need to go because it’d already know. But what about answering questions like other passengers traveling with you, or about paying extra fees? Or if you wanted to change your ticket at the counter? I once showed up at the Detroit airport to find out that my flight to Baltimore was cancelled. I sought out a sympathetic Delta employee who got me rerouted. I could sort of do that on my own terms — find an agent who was by themself, away from a large crowd, no line. So take a deep breath, stick out your boarding card, and start talking. But what about doing something like that to an automated system? With a line of people behind you? In a noisy airport?

At a hotel? Either for check-in or carrying your bags up to your room. You could be searching through your bag for a paper when the robot tells you what time breakfast is. You miss it. Can you go to a screen to get the information again, or would you have to ask it to repeat itself?

If you go to the doctor’s office, a robot could conceivably take your vitals (stick you arm in this …) and then ask you what’s wrong. Transcribe that and send it to the doctor’s tablet computer. (Which of course would be funny/horrifying the first time. You start stuttering, and it prints out directions to the nearest SLP.) That’s assuming of course it wouldn’t insult you by asking you if you’re having a stroke …

There’s so much opportunity out there for a lot of things to be automated. My concern would be whether they are looking out for people with disabilities or not. I mean, just talking to an automated phone system is stressful enough. I hate being in a room with people while on the phone with a computer and saying things like, “YES … NO … BILLING INFORMATION … DISPUTE BILL …”

(I don’t know about you, but once that crap starts, I just start pushing 0 over and over again until a human comes on. Usually works.)

I think what anybody who stuters really wants to know about this Lowe’s robot — and any other “helper” robot is this — can I just text it what I want?

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