From the heart of the machine

24 December 2008 – 2:02 pm

Waiting on the tracks for a train

I travel by train to work and am daily regaled with automated announcments while waiting at the platform, particularly at Clapham Junction. These announcements are rather good, and cleverly seem to be on a separate system to the display boards, so that if one fails, the other will continue to function. Normally the announcements consist of something like

The train on Platform 13 is the Brighton service, calling at East Croydon, Gatwick Airport, some other place or other and Brighton.

in an extremely realistic voice, presumably by an actor who must have spent several weeks reading out the names of stations and numbers and pieces of sentences to be joined together later by computer prior to announcement.

What tickles me is when there is a delay and the voice says something like

The train on platform 13 is the delayed 7:23 service to Brighton. I apologise for the late running of this service.

How can a machine apologise? It feels no remorse at all that my journey has been delayed and so the apology is meaningless. Now, if the announcement passed on the apology from the train company, or the driver or something, that would be different.

So today I was doubly puzzled while waiting at Epsom station for a train to Ashtead and I heard the announcement say

I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Note, it didn’t say “The staff and management of South West Trains wish you a Merry Christmas”, or simply “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, but “I wish you a Merry Christmas”.

To me, this is just as meaningless as an apology for a late-running train. The machine isn’t passing on the expression of a human feeling (“sorry” or “Merry Christmas”), but is attempting to express it directly itself. Surely that just doesn’t make sense.

So, in the spirit of automated announcements, this blog wishes you a Merry Christmas and apologises for being the cause of any delay while you read this drivel instead of getting on with something interesting and fun.

  1. One Response to “From the heart of the machine”

  2. I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.
    🙂

    By Ben Waugh on Dec 24, 2008

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