Soon all A class Mercedes models will understand your spoken orders. Not only that, they’ll be able to interpret what you really mean when you talk around an issue.

This is because Nuance Communications and Daimler AG are jointly developing apps around their human-car interface, the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) multimedia system. This uses Nuance’s Dragon speech recognition system to learn all about its drivers and passengers and to know what they need, even when they are asking for the wrong thing.

The MBUX’s natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language generation (NLG) combine so you can activate the car with a wake-up phrase, like “Morning Mercedes”. Their real claim to genius is to make drivers and passengers interact with MBUX naturally, as if with another person, so you can ask oblique questions and get very knowing answers.

Sounds fantastic doesn’t it? You ask the car if you can wear flip-flops tomorrow, and it knows that what you’re really asking is: will it be hot tomorrow, so should I take a day off? That’s intelligent. Hang on though, few human beings are clever enough to interpret your questions. There’s a man at Kingston Train station who doesn’t realise that when he sells you a train ticket, it’s useless if the trains aren’t actually running.

Artificial intelligence is only as good as the person who created it. So hopefully Nuance and Daimler are employing programmers who are massively empathetic – and a lot of men aren’t. Neither are many of the men who programme the machines – if my IT career was anything to go by.

Still according to MBUX, if a driver says, “it’s too hot in here,” the assistant knows to reduce the in-car temperature. It is intelligent enough to adapt to a variety of inputs with a variety of answers, rather than ploddingly stick to a limited script.

Another feature of MBUX is its ‘Continuous Recall’, where the MBUX remembers what the driver has said previously and understands their ‘banter’. So you and your car and conduct a secret coded conversation using language and terms only the two of you understand.

A more realistic example of continuous recall might be where the car notices that the driver often says “send a message to John,” and usually follows that up with “send it to Maria too”. So the car knows Maria and John are tight. I wonder if tabloid journalists and private detectives will start talking to people’s cars and getting them to spill salacious details. Let’s hope that the car has learned to be discrete.

Maybe we will have to teach our cars to be circumspect and stick to weather conversations. If someone asks, “what’s the weather like in London?” the MBUX might follow up with “how about in Manchester?”

But if the assistant is really intelligent, it will keep schtum, because everyone knows that John lives in London and Maria comes from Manchester, and if the MBUX is making an association between them, then all their suspicions will have been confirmed. “With MBUX, we have come another step closer to turning the vehicle into a mobile assistant, with interactions that are seamless and simple,” says Sajjad Khan, Daimler’s Digital Vehicle & Mobility VP.

Let’s hope that the car has learned to be discrete.

The author of this blog is Nick Booth, freelance IT and communications writer

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