Is Technology Undermining YOUR Job Security?

If so, you’re not the only one!

I spent four post-college years tirelessly studying the field of speech and hearing sciences. Knowledge and memory of politics, world religions, important dates such as my best friend’s birthday, the name of my favorite breakfast cereal, and the Starfleet ranking of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation characters gradually seeped from my cortex as knowledge and memory of theories of language development, audiology and aural rehabilitation, fluency disorders, voice disorders, swallowing disorders, and articulation and phonological disorders took its place. I nearly lost the ability to have a normal conversation as I discarded my usual pleasantries in favor of a more analytical approach to interactions:

Starbucks barista: Can I take your order?
Me: Did you mean “MAY I take your order?” And I notice your initial rhotic /r/ sound in “order” appears to emerge from the retroflex lingual position rather than the more typical bunched position. And did you know that “I,” while being a vowel denoted by a single letter, is in fact a diphthong denoted by the international phonetic alphabet with two letters, and produced only in the presence of lingual movement?
Starbucks barista: [calling for security]

And today I discover to my dismay that all of this training is for naught, and that my time might well have been better spent remembering my friends’ birthdays and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns. Because, as so eloquently pointed out to me, my human expertise in the field of speech-language pathology is simply no match for the technological expertise that analyzes the speech patterns of young children as well as information regarding children’s language environment and development. Which leaves me to simply twiddle my thumbs and eat bon bons while a computer objectively identifies the number of conversational turns a mom has with her baby (Mom: Ga ga! Baby: Ga ga ga! Computer: Congratulations! You have just completed one full conversational turn!) and the complexity of the sentence structures used by the parental figures (Mom: Stop chewing on mommy’s expensive jewelry! Computer: Congratulations! With the plethora of grammatical forms utilized in your conversational turn, including but not limited to present progressive -ing ending, possessive form, adjective, noun, and an imperative negation, your baby will be attending Harvard before his seventh birthday! As long as he stops eating jewelry!)

This technology, known as LENA, appears unnecessary, and I’ll tell you why. While it’s based on solid research that indicates the quantity of speech input and output experienced by a child between the ages of birth to three is correlated with that child’s IQ and vocabulary size, LENA (as per “was developed to give parents useful information to help ensure they are providing the richest language environment possible to their children during the critical years between birth and age 4, before they enter school.”

The problem is that those parents who are both sufficiently concerned and financially equipped to purchase LENA are the parents who are already likely providing their child with an adequate environment of enriched language input and whose child is more likely to acquire the language necessary to reach their academic potential in the school environment. And were those parents to have concerns about their child’s language development, they could access the free early intervention services provided through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part C, by which a simple screening could either validate or ease their concerns, and without the $200 price tag attached to LENA. On the other hand, those families who would most likely benefit from LENA, whose children may be at a higher risk for speech and language disorders, are those for whom LENA is likely a resource they cannot afford to access. Once again, a free screening by a real human who can identify areas of concern and connect the family with early intervention specialists who can support and advise the family in an environment conducive to family need, such as the home or daycare setting, is a more realistic and inclusive approach than LENA.

But to further prove my point, I think I’ll buy LENA anyway. She might be able to analyze speech patterns, but let’s watch her spend seven hours a day evaluating and treating speech and language disorders in young children while managing concomitant attentional and behavioral challenges. My guess is that I’ll still make a better speech pathologist than she does.

–Troi out

2 Responses

  1. Jamie Says:

    Don’t worry. They’ll still need someone to fill out the paperwork. 🙂

  2. Tina T Says:

    I’m amazed at the gains (self esteem etc) that I’ve seen in kids who have undergone speech therapy. I don’t know how well the computer analyzes speech problems, but a computer can’t replace a human when it comes to solving these problems. Besides, I have a feeling that you would take an approach with kids that incorporates your humor, which no computer could duplicate.

    By the way, next time you’re at Starbucks ask them why we can’t just order in small, medium and large.

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