There was an interesting article in the New Scientist recently on computer voices and how annoying they can be. The recent snow has given me occasion to be irritated by one voice in particular.
“The oh-seven four-teen train to… Milton Central is… 50 minutes late. I… am very sorry… for the delay”
Who is this I? If it was a real person apologising, even if I doubted their sincerity, I’d feel a bit happier about it. If it said ‘we’, I’d know that somewhere the company realised that annoying customers is bad, and they feel sorry that they have, but I? It even adjusts how sorry it is for the delay – for 5 minute delays, it’s only “sorry”, but for longer delays it’s “very sorry”. It’s ridiculous. It’s also insulting that someone somewhere thought we would be mollified by a synthesised sorry. The day a computer can apologise using the word I for a train being late, is the day it goes home to it’s robot wife saying
“I had a terrible day at work today. So many trains were late, those poor commuters must have been so frustrated. I love those days when everything runs smoothly, I feel like I’m really contributing. Perhaps we should move to Germany, I’ve heard there’s better job satisfaction for transport announcement computers there….”
Until that day, computers may express sorrow on behalf of others, but not for themselves. In fact it would be better if they avoided the use of the word “I” altogether.
For an apology to be meaningful, there must be an awareness of wrongdoing.