The Problem with a Screen-less Future

Allan X
8 min readJan 7, 2018


So I said I’d write about this but just didn’t expect it to be so soon… basically right after finishing off the last one. It’s actually 12AM right now and I’m in bed but my mind is on fire so I’m just going to let it all out.

Still Getting Left Out

I’ve actually written about this a bit before:

I wrote the first one in May and the second June but not much has changed since… rather it looks like the problem will get worse.

Companies like Ava are doing good but their impact and resources are limited. On the other hand, there is still no attention from the players that really shape the future.

Companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon are pushing forward with AI and “natural interfaces”. This basically translates to voice systems where you talk to your devices and they talk back.

We’re going to have smart homes and the Internet of Things that are all going to communicate with us naturally. And naturally means no more screens. No need to type or feed computers instructions by hand. You just need to talk to them and they’ll talk back.

I’m all for less screen time but I’ve got a problem… I’m deaf. The only way people can communicate with me is by writing.

I need screens, what other option do I have?

Are you going to teach computers sign language? Or will I still need to use a translator or interpreter? What about the elderly or people who suddenly lose hearing?

Isn’t technology supposed to empower us, make our lives easier?

But how is this voice only revolution going to do that for people like me? Rather it seems it’s going to make things harder for us… Why are we getting excluded from progress?

And it’s not really just us deafies. In general, the feeling seems to be that people with disabilities, that are not normal, are still getting left out.

Unless we’re on TV or YouTube, very few people care… even though some solutions can be very simple to make. In fact, isn’t this the whole point of the Diversity movement?

OK Google!

So back to screens and voice only systems. I’ve actually tried asking people at Google about this.

When Home first came out in early 2017 I was intrigued. The smart home sounds cool. I’m a techie so I’m imagining something like Minority Report.

You can talk to the house, control everything by voice… and you get a confirmation on a holo-screen… or your smartphone. Right there is the solution… a bit early in the post but…

I checked the specs but notice a problem. How am I going to use it? I can’t understand whatever comes out of this thing…

I went onto their Support site and found an actual person I could chat with. I asked him but the response went something like this:

I don’t know but there will be something that should help you eventually.

Ah Eventually… I love that word! Not.

Now a few months ago, Google came out with the Home Mini. I went to a Google event just to see what these were all about.

A lot of people apparently… After I waiting for an hour or more, I finally got into a booth where they let you try the Mini and get one for free.

Whoo!! Yay!! That’s awesome! I can ask it questions, have it tell me jokes, check my calendar, call people, and even order pizza!

But wait… same problem. So this time, I dropped by the Google Store and asked the same question:

Hi I’m deaf but I just got a Home Mini. How can I use it?

And I got something like this:

Getting Heard

It sort of blows my mind how these big guys could’ve missed this… for so long. Are they so focused on their vision of the future, they forgot about people like me? Are we not important?

I’m pretty sure I’m just as intelligent as any other person… if not more.

I guess it goes back to the lack of diversity. Just like election polling, the disabled are not picked up in their focus groups. Our voices, opinions and problems aren’t being heard.

Yes there are companies and people that do hear us but not these giants. But it’s them who are really going to shape the future. It should be their responsibility.

In fact it’s even in their mission statement: Don’t Be Evil. Or did Google change that? I’m sorry for picking on Google but that’s the one I’ve really known and sort of liked. I am actually a shareholder… maybe I should take this post and read it at one of their shareholder meetings… but I’d probably be too nervous and mess it up…

But it seems, if no one or not enough people can raise the issue to them, they don’t care.

Just look at Facebook and fake news…

Well now I’m raising my hand but am I going to get heard?

I’ll tell you this, the only reason I really want to work for Amazon or Google is so that I can get my voice heard and get this stuff fixed. But even if I could get in, there’s no guarantee that I would reach the people that call the shots…

A big reason I use Twitter is because now companies are on social media. While their online feedback and support systems suck, if I shame them enough on Twitter I can usually expect a response… though may still not be very helpful…

Again, for Home, the solution is quite simple. If they just asked me or anyone that’s deaf what we’d like, I think we’d all say the same thing: Just send the responses as text to my phone…

And actually this leads to another feature that could be useful to everyone. What if you could talk to Home from your phone? You’re upstairs but forgot to turn off the smart-light downstairs.

Well just pull out your phone, open the app and say “Ok Google, turn off the lights downstairs”.

Again, they just need to see things from a different point of view…

The Future is Looking Cloudy

Another thing is self-driving cars. Cars these days are already full of voice assistants but they also usually have a touch screen that shows important information. Well if the trend continues as it does now, those will be gone too. Google has already removed the steering wheel…

So let’s see:

  1. I’m going to be sitting in a 2-ton vehicle traveling at 50mph or more.
  2. I’m going to trust somehow it understood where I said I wanted to go
  3. I need to hope no errors occur because if the voice system tells me something important or asks a question, I wouldn’t even know it said anything

Quite frankly this is already a problem for me, if a fire alarm goes off while I’m sleeping… there’s a very high chance I would not be aware of it since I can’t hear it… and well only a blaring horn can wake me up when I sleep…

Or maybe I’ll wake up coughing for air… but then that would probably be too late…

I’ll just continue hoping this situation doesn’t occur…

But my point is there seems to be a huge lack of attention to the disabled.

People like me would actually be the ones that most benefit from all these new technologies since they would allow us to live more normally… yet again these guys don’t seem to care…

Oh just another thought… We will all get old and most will be somewhat disabled. What will you do then? Is anyone going to hear you? Would you still have a voice by then?

Are Tech Companies Really Benevolent and Interested in Social Good?

Sometimes I wonder what are these guys really thinking? I just read this article related to the whole Net Neutrality debate. Finally, the big guys are taking a stand. But for what?

Yes I know, equality and fairness is important. I mean that’s what my issue is in life and what I’ve been talking about.

They say they are fighting for a “free and open internet” but actually these guys are doing the most locking. They control much of the Internet and what we do and see. In fact, here’s a good post on that, note the year in the link:

I actually follow this blog because Ben Thompson makes very good points and observations about tech.

So they say they are fighting for us but is that really so? I don’t think it’s as simple as Good Guy vs Bad Guy (FCC). What’s their hidden agenda? I’m guessing it’s more money for them.

As Ben argues, we have given them a lot of power. If you can still remember, Microsoft did something like this at a smaller scale in the 1990s but got busted as a monopoly.

I like (most) of these companies but they now hold immense power and they should be taking responsibility for it. They are shaping society and the future.

They talk the talk about a more inclusive and fair environment, diversity, etc. but are they walking the walk?

I will finish by just saying this:

I/We shouldn’t have to shame/bludgeon them to make them take responsibility for what they are doing or in this case not doing.