Scientist Studies Cars That Speak and Listen Like KITT

I used to want a car just like KITT when I was a kid, though perhaps without that slightly annoying nasal voice. And now a Stanford scientist is looking at whether nattering to your vehicle may be good for you, the car, other road users and even (darnit) your insurers or advertising execs.

"Your car could know a heck of a lot about you," says Clifford Nass, things like where you go, what speed you drive, what music you listen to. And, of course, companies will pay for that info, but Nass is also wondering if your car could speak back to you, would it result in you driving more safely, or even cheer you up if you were depressed?

Nass' research is interesting to insurers, of course, because if your car could detect that you consistently drove too fast or were often angrily swearing at the traffic while you wrenched at the wheel, they might be tempted to up your premiums. But Nass also sees our future cars being like dumber versions of KITT, behaving more like a co-pilot and actually speaking back to us. Perhaps pointing out that there's a pedestrian in the road ahead, or warning you that you're driving too aggressively.

Some of Nass' results are fascinating:
•Depressed drivers drive better when their car reacts as if it too is depressed
•Cars that speak in complex sentences tend to make you pay attention, rather than zoning out
•Older drivers prefer younger voices
•The car's voice is important: BMW had to recall Series 5 cars because male German drivers didn't listen to its female voice
•Drivers feel closer to the computer if they believe it's embedded in the car, rather than a remote device.

That last one seems like an extension of our personification of cars: I've named every one of my cars, and I bet you guys do too. And while a talking, monitoring, advice-giving car may be some people's idea of a nightmare, you can see that the idea has potential for improving safety: "You can imagine how much it costs for anti-lock brakes. But what if you could simply change the voice in the car?" points out Nass. What do you think, guys? Talking cars FTW? ... or KITT-like cars as nightmare? [Physorg]