Vocal Archives

How to archive the things that we write has been a preoccupation of mine as of late. In most cases, digital archives are inferior in longevity to ye olde paper and ink. But, if we imagine that our archives will not only survive, but become readily accessed, indexed, and searchable, concerns about privacy arise. Now imagine every word you say being saved:

We are going to start recording and automatically transcribing most of what we say. Instead of evaporating into memory, words spoken aloud will calcify as text, into a Record that will be referenced, searched, and mined. It will happen by our standard combination of willing and allowing.

This is the (excellent) lede from James Somers’ What Searchable Speech Will Do To You. It hooks you with something that sounds alarming and proceeds to educate you about the entire field of speech recognition, dipping momentarily into articificial intelligence and arguments about how having all of our speech readily indexed and searchable will make us dumber. He concludes sanely:

The Record will not turn our brains to mush. Yes, we will likely spend less energy committing great talk to our long-term memories. And transcripts will relieve us from having to track certain details that come up in conversation. But we won’t thereby lose the ability to track details—just as we didn’t lose our ability to plan when we invented the calendar, or our ability to memorize when we invented the pen. We will enrich our long-term memories in some other way (say, by poring over the vast stores of material newly made available by transcription). Our brains adapted to writing, to libraries, and to the Web. They will adapt to the Record. And people will, anyway, continue to be less concerned with how they sound than with how they look. They will be far more likely to pause for a selfie than for a soliloquy.

The entire piece is well worth a read.


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