Does your car talk back -- and even crack jokes? If so, you should probably pull over and get some rest.
But in the near future, this scenario probably won't be science fiction. An invention by U.S. computer maker IBM could be in an automobile near you within five years, according to New Scientist
Named the Artificial Passenger by inventors Wlodek Wlodzimierz and Dimitri Kanevsky, the system involves an onboard computer containing a personal profile of the driver.
Designed to keep the motorist alert while at the wheel, the system includes a conversation planner program which will ask questions and measure response times.
A slow or mumbled response -- and especially a wrong one -- will result in a squirt of icy water, an opened window or an alarm buzzer.
The system even has a sneaky side, changing radio stations to see if the driver notices or cracking a joke and listening for a laugh, according to New Scientist
So in the near future, you could be driving along, minding your own business, when your car starts shouting personal questions at you: "Where did you go on your first date? What's your favorite song? What's your mother's maiden name? Where'd you go to school? What's your favorite food? Who won the ball game?"
If you don't answer quickly enough, correctly or at all, then things get strange. Windows start opening and closing, a buzzer might sound and worse, you can get squirted with a stream of cold water.
IBM's artificial passenger is, by design, as annoying as possible -- all in the name of driver alertness and safety, according David Nahamoo, IBM senior manager for human language technology.
So far, the artificial passenger is a concept backed by a newly granted patent. There have been no talks with automakers yet about installing the full system, although there have been conversations about using its voice recognition technology and components of the system to allay growing concerns about driver distractions from hand-held cellular phones and other telematics devices.
A study of federal data by the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina found that about 284,000 distracted drivers are involved in serious crashes each year.
Nahamoo believes more advanced voice recognition technology, such as that demonstrated in IBM's artificial passenger, may help reduce distractions while allowing drivers to use telematics devices.
The technology has four components: a camera, microphone, speaker and voice-recognition software.
The first step is building the driver's profile by storing in the system information about the driver that can be used later as fodder for questions. Family history, hobbies, interests, relationships, and musical tastes are the most likely subjects.
Every once in awhile during a trip, the system is designed to suddenly rap out a question to test the driver's alertness. If the driver answers correctly and quickly enough, then the artificial passenger is satisfied -- for the time being.
A tardy, incorrect or no answer leads the artificial passenger to believe the driver is not alert and that triggers the potentially annoying consequences.
Nahamoo said the artificial passenger system can be more like a back seat driver ordering you to park, hit the next rest stop or start changing the radio station.
Trying to fool the artificial passenger would be futile, according to Nahamoo, thanks to a technology called audio-visual speech recognition. A camera mounted on the dashboard or visor is aimed at the driver. It can detect whether or not the driver is really speaking, and if the driver is speaking, it will determine if his or her mouth moves vigorously enough to indicate alertness.
That means actual passengers hoping to pinch hit for an inattentive driver will only earn the artificial passenger's revenge.
According to IBM, the technology could be available in three to five years at a still undetermined cost.