Stuttering on Facebook … and More Robots

I wanted to just mention today about two Facebook groups that I’ve joined recently — Stuttering Community, Stuttering Hangout, and Stuttering Arena.

They’ve each got about 3,000 members, which is pretty nice. Although I suspect that there are probably a lot more people out there wanting to join but afraid to because they’re covert — and doesn’t joining a group or belonging to a group show up on your timeline? And thus your friends could see it?

Recently people have been throwing questions out there about stress levels, genetics, kinds of stutters. It’s really interesting to read the comments and see how people relate to their stutter. Most of the posts have 20-30 comments or more, so people are reading and responding. I put out something on there about stuttering on your employer’s name … didn’t get much traction, though … maybe it’s me. Anyway, it’s nice to read all the comments and get some ideas for blog posts.

I was talking about robots the other day, and lo and behold, here’s some more fun that’s come to my attention.

First, there’s this expensive toy that can be bought from the Apple Store.

That’s right. It’s your head on a stick. That can be driven around. Aside from the general creepiness of it, I wonder how someone who stutters would deal with this. I could see how a company in the States could put one of these in say, an office in India doing engineering work. The boss could “move around” the office and check in on what everybody’s up to. My question would be — could I program it to say things, or would I have to say everything? Like, could I just select a few recorded messages once I rolled up to someone?

There’s also the new Amazon Echo product …

Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. It’s always on—just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more. Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.” It’s also an expertly-tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive sound.

Seriously? Can I change its name though? What if I stutter on Alexa nine times out of ten? Do I have to stutter and stumble in my own house? Can I just name it Captain Chucklebuckets? I have a hard enough time when my son is standing next to me and forcing me to talk to Siri. Son, back in my day, we just looked stuff up the old fashioned way …

I can also see myself going to someone’s house and being embarrassed by this thing. Like I start stuttering, it might pick up what I’m trying to say and suggest or do something else. Ugh. No.

This is what the upcoming robot invasion feels like for someone who stutters:

Them: What, are you afraid the robot is going to terminate you? Like in those movies?
Me: No, that’s silly.
Them: Then what are you afraid of?
Me: I’m afraid he’s going to ask me a question. And then when I stutter on the response, then he’ll terminate me.

I promise tomorrow I’ll take off the tinfoil hat and stop talking about robots …

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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