[Image courtesy of precentral.net]
If you have seen any network television recently, you have probably seen the ads for Apple's new iPhone 4S featuring its new intelligent assistant, Siri. This new feature is designed to let users talk to their phone and issue commands or ask questions that the phone will then answer aloud.
Voice-activated smartphones aren't necessarily new - the ability to use a phone by speaking to it has existed in Google's Android system for a while - but we are rapidly approaching the point where the ability to literally converse with our smartphones could pay huge dividends in the field of elections.
First, of course, is the ability to combine voting information and the new breed of smartphones to allow voters to ask and answer questions about the process. My friends and colleagues at the Voting Information Project have already developed a mobile "app" that allows voters to input an address or use GPS to find relevant election information - and I have no doubt they are already looking for ways to incorporate voice into that process.
Second, smartphones are becoming increasingly, well, smart about translating between different languages - which could be a game-changer for those voters who need language assistance at the polls. The Google Translate mobile app was recently updated to include a "Conversation Mode" which allows individuals to use a smartphone as a virtual translator. We are also seeing development of powerful translation apps like Word Lens, which offers the promise of using a smartphone to read signs in alternate languages. While none of this can replace the assistance of a real live person at the polls, technology like this may help in situations where full assistance isn't available.
Finally, we are beginning to see smartphones used to accelerate access to information of all kinds. Last week, the Florida League of Women Voters announced that they had partnered with election offices and Microsoft to place "smart tags" on materials that voters could use to access official voting information via their smartphones. Such programs can shorten the distance between voters and the information they need.
People around the world are increasingly turning to smartphones and other mobile devices like tablets as their primary source of information. The programming developments above hold out hope that the devices we love (and rely on) will continue to be useful every day - and especially Election Day.