Let's teach the machines to sing

This morning I woke up to the crisp winter sun searing into my corneas in cruel retribution for having cursed its absence for the last few months. A bird that I could never hope to identify was singing softly through the window, which helpfully turned on the coffee maker, switched the TV on to Daybreak and then brought me my dressing gown in its tiny beak.

Not really though. I don’t own a dressing gown and of course I’m not going to watch Daybreak this week because Lorraine’s on holiday. But the rest of it could be true. Almost…

Chirp, an application from the minds at University College London lets you share photos, messages and web links with a warble you can send to anyone and everyone within hearing distance of a phone made in the last 5 years. Sounding like R2-D2 with the giggles, the idea and the ‘chirp’ itself feel both futuristic and retro at the same time – an old idea that no one ever quite got round to thinking of.

It’s like Twitter but with actual tweeting - or like Bluetooth, but without the pairing and connecting nightmare - it’s a great way to share something with as many people as you like quickly, simply and with more than a little novelty. I downloaded the app and was immediately taking and sending photos to everyone in the office, for no other reason than because I could.

Beyond sending photos of mugs, staplers and telephones there are a few real-world uses for this kind of technology, which seems quite rare for a silly and simple idea. Sending presentations or documents to everyone at the start of a meeting; sharing your business information or LinkedIn account with conference attendees: if you want to say something to a lot of people at the same time, apparently the easiest way is to ‘chirp’ it.

Available on iOS and Android, with other platforms ‘in the works’, the future of the app could be promising, though they are a little slow in rolling out developments. The dream at UCL is for Chirp to be integrated into anything that might want to talk through the internet – fridges, TVs and perhaps, coffee makers. They want to see Chirp baked right in to all these things and more so they’re always listening (which may or may not be creepy). In return you get adverts that Chirp offers directly to you, coffee makers that tell you when to replace the filter and vacuum cleaners that berate you for living like a student.

If all of this sounds like we’re edging perilously close to a future army of articulate appliances, there is more good news to come: Chirp can be ultrasonic - so no one will actually hear your toaster shouting at you but the dog.

So here’s to a Chirpy future that lets machines talk to each other and helps you to share information and get what you really want from adverts: like a dressing gown or something good to watch with your talking toast.

App: bit.ly/OatZzu

by Chris. January 2014.