Mark Nelson: Peak Access Theory

Posted on October 18, 2014

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Two weeks ago, I bumped into Charlie Swinbourne, the Editor of this site, and we were talking about the future of technology when I told him my theory of ‘Peak Deaf Access.’ He asked me to share it with a wider audience, so here it is!

Most of us know about ‘Peak Oil Theory,’ the idea that at some point the world’s supply of oil reaches its peak and from then on many of the things we take for granted – like a plentiful and relatively cheap supply of fuel and energy – enters terminal decline, becoming gradually more scarce, and expensive.

Well I have a ‘Peak Deaf Access’ theory, which works roughly along the same lines.

I think we have reached a peak in access terms, or are about to reach it. I believe that there will be a long decline for access for profoundly deaf people from now on as the use of voice recognition systems takes off.

Profoundly deaf people have vastly benefited from the digital revolution. Once, we were left out when society depended on the phone. Then fax machines and textphones gave us a small step forward. But that was nothing compared to what followed: the internet, emails, text messaging, webcams and smartphones. We now take many of these advances for granted.

To input information to many of these systems, we still use keyboards. However, as new devices have come in that don’t use a traditional keyboard, they’re starting to offer voice recognition as a way of inputting information instead. For an example, just look at Apple’s Siri voice recognition system for the iPhone.

The problem is that all attempts so far to create a system that can recognise signs in the same way as voices have failed. Voices are soundwaves which is linear, relatively easy to convert into meaningful computerised data, whereas signs exist in 3D physical space, and are accompanied by intricate facial expressions. It’s hard to imagine a system being invented for sign language recognition anytime soon.

One day, I think all the keyboards will be gone, the buttons on smartphones will be gone, and everything will be like Star Trek – with people walking into lifts and speaking to say which floor they want to go to.  One day people will laugh at the concept where people had to press individual keys H…E…L…L…O, its so much quicker and easier to just say the word ‘Hello’ and speak hundreds of words effortlessly. Appliances at home (such as toasters, washing machines, ovens), cars and even televisions will be operated through voice recognition.

Every other disability group will benefit hugely, no need for physical touch, no need for specially adjusted input devices… And us Deafies? We’ll be left out.

We’ll look back and think “never mind, at least we enjoyed our ‘pressing keys period’ while it lasted.” We will look back fondly of our buttons and miss them so much. Maybe we’ll even be the ones holding on to the old technology so we can keep using it – for decades – even as society moves on to devices that make what we’re using look like an old ‘brick’ mobile phone.

So there it is. My theory of ‘Peak Deaf Access.’ Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

What do you think? Have we reached ‘Peak Deaf Access?’ Leave your comment below.

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