The war on ro­bots guilty of mur­der­ing con­ver­sa­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - OLIVER PRITCHETT READ MORE at tele­ opin­ion vels sti­cians ews vels it al ed h ut f ows out S dow rse.” his

Voice-ac­ti­vated de­vices are the newish big thing. If you make a tele­phone call to a rail­way com­pany or some large or­gan­i­sa­tion, you are likely to find your­self in a di­a­logue with some fe­male ro­bot voice whose pa­tient tone re­veals that she has been pro­grammed to as­sume you are an id­iot. And now there are so-called in­tel­li­gent as­sis­tants, sup­posed to do your bid­ding. The BBC has even launched a ra­dio drama that al­lows lis­ten­ers to in­flu­ence the plot by speak­ing through their Ama­zon Echo.

I have just writ­ten the screen­play for a ma­jor fea­ture film, whose plot is based around this voice-based tech­nol­ogy. It is called Mur­der on the Pisa Ex­press and it fea­tures a num­ber of very big stars.

A mur­dered man is found in the cor­ri­dor of an ex­press train head­ing for Pisa. Who is he and why has he been killed? By sheer chance, a Bel­gian de­tec­tive is on the train. He had meant to catch the Ori­ent Ex­press but there was a mix-up when he asked the in­tel­li­gent as­sis­tant on his smart­phone to get a ticket. (The mis­un­der­stand­ing may have been caused by his Bel­gian ac­cent or be­cause his voice was muf­fled by his pre­pos­ter­ous mous­tache.)

The de­tec­tive con­cludes that the mur­der vic­tim had ac­tu­ally tried to or­der a pizza, but when he got the Pisa ticket in­stead he de­cided to get away from it all. There are many sus­pects; all the pas­sen­gers on the train have had a run-in with new tech­nol­ogy which put them in a mur­der­ous mood. Was it the suave mil­lion­aire who had tried to ex­plain to the au­to­mated BT helpline what his tech­ni­cal prob­lem was? Or the glam­orous so­cialite who has tick­ets in her handbag for Blade Run­ner at five dif­fer­ent cin­ema com­plexes?

Sus­pi­cion quickly falls on a femme fa­tale named Alexa. The de­tec­tive be­lieves she hears voices in her head telling her to do things. She could not dis­obey in­struc­tions to com­mit a mur­der. When ques­tioned, all she will say is: “A chance of rain to­day. Bet­ter take your um­brella.”

I worry about morale at the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics. How will they be feel­ing as they turn up for work this Mon­day morn­ing? They may well jab the lift but­ton a lit­tle more force­fully than usual and slap the fold­ers down on their desks. They have just re­leased a re­port say­ing that the Bri­tish are just a lit­tle bit hap­pier than a year ago. Av­er­age hap­pi­ness lev­els are 7.52 out of 10, com­pared with 7.46 in the pre­vi­ous year. I won­der if statis­ti­cians were in­cluded in their sam­ple.

At ONS head­quar­ters, the news of this slight rise in hap­pi­ness lev­els could well be con­sid­ered “a bit of a downer”, to ap­ply the tech­ni­cal term. Af­ter all, sta­tis­tics are sup­posed to alarm us: look out, the growth of the prison pop­u­la­tion is get­ting out of hand; wake up, the num­ber of ac­ci­dents with deckchairs shows no sign of im­prove­ment; you’re not go­ing to like this new data about deaths from liver dis­ease.

Se­nior tab­u­la­tors at the ONS will walk mood­ily over to the win­dow of the of­fice, ob­serve the peo­ple hur­ry­ing along the pave­ment and mut­ter. “Look at them. Not a care in the world. On av­er­age, of course.” Then one of them will say: “This is a wake-up call. We must get a move on with that cen­sus of the rat pop­u­la­tion in UK sew­ers.”

Sheep in­vari­ably cut me dead. They have a way of look­ing through me and back­ing away. My troubl trou­ble is, I’m just not fa­mous. A Cambr Cam­bridge Univer­sity study has re­veal re­vealed that sheep can recog­nise faces, but, in the ex­per­i­ments to back this up up, it turns out that they were able to iden iden­tify pic­tures of Fiona Bruce, Barack Obama and Emma Wat­son. So it seem seems they are sim­ply mad about celebr celebri­ties. If sheep had their way, there w would al­ways be flocks of them out­sid out­side film pre­mieres, baa-ing at the stars and bleat­ing for self­ies.

A Af­ter years of watch­ing sheep­dog tria tri­als on tele­vi­sion, I have con con­cluded that sheep are pa par­tic­u­larly dis­dain­ful of Bor­der Co Col­lies. They don’t wish to be ass as­so­ci­ated with them and, when on one ap­proaches, they with­draw hau haugh­tily with­out look­ing back. That sheep­dog is not herd­ing, it is be­ing shunned. Of course, it would be dif­fere dif­fer­ent if it were a fa­mous dog, like Lassie Lassie.

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