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‘Scarlett’ doesn’t understand me

“I get into enough trouble talking to people,” I said.

Or at least, that’s what I would have said at the register last week. Or last December, or October, for that matter. For then I could have declined the ability to talk to my machines.

The trouble started for me last week when I decided I needed a new laptop after four years. The last one had been good to me, but after upgrading a keyboard, a hard drive, a screen and onboard memory, I decided I’d be better off sinking my money into a newer laptop.

The new laptop is basic, but it has a few nice features I won’t bore you with. It wasn’t until Monday that I found that Windows 7 offers voice command. There was a tutorial where it learned my voice, and I learned various commands. The tutorial showed me how I could type a document, all without touching my keyboard. I just had to say what I wanted to type; I also had to punctuate myself. I actually told my computer that last sentence, so it seems easy enough, right?

Nope. Like every speaking device before it, something gets lost in translation. I’m the Bill Murray character that said the above sentence, and the computer is Scarlett Johanssen, telling me that it heard, “I just had to say what I wanted to tie it, it also led them to Asia myself.” This would be a much different column if I had relied solely on the computer I will now nickname “Scarlett.”

Perhaps the name should have gone to my car’s Bluetooth system, when I got it in December. It only controls my phone, so I don’t get to relive that awkward Ford commercial where the friend looks for embarrassing music by telling the computer to, “Play artist Michael Bolton.” The commercial I’d film wouldn’t be that effective, with me saying, “Call Dad home,” and then yelling no after the cold-hearted female voice responds, “Would you like to call Dad on mobile?”

The phone could have got the name too. The microphone can be used as a way to skip typing when I send text messages or use a search engine. When a coworker jokingly texted me song lyrics, “Making my way downtown, walking fast, faces pass and I’m homebound,” it was my job to follow up. I told my phone to Google, “Faces pass and I’m homebound.” I never got Vanessa Carlton’s, “A Thousand Miles,” but I’ve now got a bunch of suggestions for where I can get a good home buyer loan.

I’m not even going to get into my experiences with automated phone systems, which eventually lead me to scream, “NO,” and “AGENT,” only to have the system not recognize anything when I’m yelling at it.

This is why I snicker a little bit every time I watch, “I, Robot.” Yeah, there are a lot of other reasons to laugh at that movie, but let’s stay on track. I just don’t see how we’re going to get from my computer telling me about my non-existent Asian safaris and my phone looking up home loans, to a fully-functional robot that caters to my every whim and makes me a delicious breakfast. That’s not even accounting for personal differences, like whether I like my tea sweetened (I don’t) or whether I’d want my robot to make me breakfast after I sleep in (I definitely do).

That movie would have been over really quick if I’d been involved. Will Smith wouldn’t have had time to figure out the professor’s murder, because the police would be too busy with the robot revolt. You know, the one that would have happened five minutes into the movie, with the robot flipping out after I stammered, “I want something similar to a bowl of Cocoa Puffs, but I want it to be healthy.”

Revolution aside, there’s more than enough incentive to tell people I’m using the voice command, even though I’m tempted to shelf the function. You see, now I have the computer to blame when my e-mails and columns just don’t make sense. Get ready for Kevin’s new catch phrase, “My computer heard it wrong.”

Oh, Scarlett, this is the beginning of a beautiful one-way relationship.