Chris Contolini

Using Location-­Aware Multimodal Speech Interfaces to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

I have a habit of making things difficult for myself by injecting lulz into situations. It’s not always a bad thing as it encourages lateral thinking and creative problem solving. But, it rarely goes well in the world of academia, where tenured faculty take their teachings extremely srsly.

During my undergraduate years an Art History professor told us to “be creative” with the presentation of an art gallery report due the following week. Most students included photographs with the assignment or printed it on colored paper. I took my 2,000 words, went to Kinkos, and printed the report from an oversized printer so that each page was five feet tall. I stapled the pages together, rolled them up and turned them in.

I got a zero on the assignment but gained an awesome conversation piece hanging on my wall.

More recently, I enrolled in a course on the design and development of speech interfaces. The first lecture’s assignment was to:

Write a plan for a multimodal speech interface for mobile-device controlled large shared displays for a hectic situation (e.g., emergency control or control of complex systems).

Obvious responses included flight status notifications at airports or a fire evacuation system. But those topics are boooorrrrring. Instead, I wrote a 12-page proposal on an automated IVR system for use during a zombie apocalypse.

Even though I met all of the assignment’s requirements, the professor was not amused and I didn’t receive a grade for my work. Granted, Finnish superiors aren’t known for their sense of humor. Ironically, I learned a LOT in that course and it led to a variety of extra-curricular VoiceXML projects. In fact, that course, while one of my worst grades, was one of the most interesting and inspirational I took that semester.

I’ve been thinking about academic lulz lately because it’s thesis writin’ time and I’ve had a hard time finding a topic. I want to be certain it’ll hold my attention for the next X months. In order to do so, it’ll likely have a strong sarcastic/activisty/rabble-rousing element. So if you have any ideas, let me know.

Next week I start a different course with the same speech interface professor. Hopefully he doesn’t remember me. Although, he’ll probably be reminded once I submit a couple assignments.