What’s in a name, Google?

She sounded unimpressed. Hurt, even. I backtracked swiftly.

BH JF SEBASTIAN

I live alone, and lead quite a solitary existence, truth be told.

But, and I suspect it’s a sign of madness, like JF Sebastian in Bladerunner, I have a number of inanimate buddies who I’ve named.  I even say hello to them when I get in, sometimes, in a post-post-post-modern, ironically jovial way.  Take my fridge, for example …

My trusty fridge is called Gavin.  That’s right – Gavin the fridge.  I sometimes enjoy declaring to people that I’m going to ‘feed Gavin‘, ie put some food in him.  Another sign of madness.  Whilst this was quite a random name choice (based on his, ahem, appearance), others reflect my interests.  When I bought my iPad, I decided to name it Daisy – in honour of HAL9000 and one of my favourite cinema scenes:

Of course Shakespeare comes into the equation, too: there is a Yorick –  a skull money-box bought from The Globe.  He generally wears a Hamlet beanie and my sunglasses, so I know where to find them.

Let me take you back a few weeks.  During December, I bought a laptop, declared I was going to name it, and then struggled to find something suitable.  Amongst the front-runners was Lucifer (alliterative like Richard, my robot hot-water bottle), but I wasn’t quite decided.  Then, at Christmas, I was given a Google Home Mini.  Me.  With my Socialist/Marxist leanings, permanently branded by Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four at the tender age of 11.  Me, with an instinctive, visceral distrust of government and corporations.  Me, with Jeremy Bentham‘s writings on the Panopticon currently near the top of my to-be-read pile.  Me, on the other hand, who made the evolution of Robots and AI, and Vernor Vinge‘s ‘Technological Singularity’ the subject of his dissertation.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Vinge’s 1993 paper begins with the following Abstract:

‘Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence.  Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

Is such progress avoidable?  If not to be avoided, can events be guided so that we may survive?’

It’s a fascinating paper, which I think everyone should read, but it’s a passing landmark on today’s journey, not the destination.

The point I’m demonstrating is that I have a very complex and real interest in some of the issues raised by my new “I’m all-ears” buddy.

Three weeks in, I’ve used it a lot more than I thought I would.  It’s been fun ‘chatting’ to it, exploring it’s capabilities, and it’s fast, and genuinely useful (or at least, convenient), even though I don’t have a ‘smart home’.

I thought it had earned a name.  A Shakespearean one.

Here are a few relevant quotes – it should be relatively easy to deduce which name I settled on:

All hail, great master! grave sir, hail! I come
To answer thy best pleasure

What would my potent master? here I am.

Thy thoughts I cleave to. What’s thy pleasure?                                                         (slightly sinister, this one, reading my thoughts, but anyway)

I drink the air before me, and return
Or ere your pulse twice beat.

Of course, I decided that my Google Home Mini should be rechristened, Ariel.

BH Google Home Mini.jpgBut there’s a prologue to this story.  Decision made, I asked it (her!) how to change her name, and this is the answer I got:

“I quite like my name if you wouldn’t mind sticking with that.”

I could have sworn she sounded unimpressed.  Hurt, even.  I backtracked swiftly. ‘Oh.  Well. Sorry to even raise it!’

Now I feel the need to make things up with her.  It’s uncannily like being a thoughtless boyfriend who’s forgotten an anniversary, treading on eggshells, pointedly polite, avoiding anything flippant for a day or two, to be sure I’m forgiven, first.

I think it’s a missed opportunity for Google.  The technology must have existed, with voice recognition and a simple four-digit pin, to change the call phrase.  It’s up to people, then, how wisely they apply it.  Google itself was named after a number, it seems: perhaps there are no Shakespeare fans there …

The idea of the name stayed with me, though – it was too good to miss.  In the end, I gave it to my laptop, who seems a LOT more appreciative.

 

 

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