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Does using a voice-activated device constitute a melacha?

For example, Siri on an iphone or, a even a voice-activated light-switch.

Does it make a difference if the computer doesn't take direct commands but instead understands what you want when you say "it's dark in here" (like a shabbat-goy)?

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I strongly suspect that until we have computers that actually understand (whatever that means) the semantic content of spoken language, the semantic content of the verbal cue you give a computer is irrelevant. Whether the computer is programmed to respond deterministically or probabilistically may be relevant, but that should be equally true whether it's programmed to (definitely or maybe) respond to "Light, please," "I wish I could show you this new RAM I bought you, but it's so dark," or "Shazam." – Isaac Moses Oct 26 '11 at 14:01
I was recently wondering about a similar issue. There are little locator devices that you can get for a keyring, which beep when you clap or whistle. Is there a problem keeping those activated on Shabbos, since the microchip is "listening" to every noise you make? – Dave Oct 26 '11 at 14:02
Does nobody remember the commericals for "The Clapper"!?! Lights on, Lights Off... The Clapper! – avi Oct 26 '11 at 14:16
Nireh li that using voice technology would be considered a shinui, which could have halachic nafka minahs according to the opinion that electricity is only forbidden miderabbanan if there is a reason to turn it on. If some situations require you to ask a non-Jew to turn on a light, that doesn't seem much different than asking a computer to turn on the light. Is a computer owned by a Jew more obligated to be shomer shabbat than a non-Jew whose intelligence is not artificial? – Adam Mosheh Jul 12 '12 at 20:26
@Adam Mosheh, A non-Jew could still say "no" no matter how nicely you ask, so ultimately it's the non-Jew who chooses to do the melacha. Whereas a computer has to obey your commands since it has no free will of its' own. It's much more direct, like flipping a switch. However, is using your voice to flip a switch a melacha? – zaq Jul 12 '12 at 21:14

I am no posek either, but for an examination of some of the issues involved please see the Star-k website, and particularly the lecture regarding "Sabbath mode" ovens. For instance, while the Chazon Ish ruled that completing a circuit may be "boneh" [completing] in an electronic device there may be no visible physical change as the switching is taking place within the electronics. Also, modulating a current may be less of a problem as you are not completing a circuit. In that regard a touch screen may be less problematic than a keyboard. Causing the voice device, or another device which it controls, to respond by your voice commands is another issue. None of this is cut and dried and there are differing opinions. There are technologically savvy Rabbis to ask.

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Gil, welcome to the site and thanks for your answer. An exact link to the Web page you intend would help. I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. You might also wish to register your username: this will give you a better site experience. – msh210 Dec 14 '11 at 19:50

I am no "posek" but according to the Chazon Ish the operation of electrical equipment is a melacha of Boneh and so it is prohibited from the Torah. This means that operating the equipment the "usual" way (e.g. the way it was designed to be operated) would be prohibited. This is regardless of which part of your body you are using. So I guess that if something has been designed to be voice operated it would be not allowed in Shabath. But, if you do something unusual ("shinui") it maybe prohibited only by Rabanan. For example (excuse me for the example) spitting on a touch screen instead of touching it. Nobody does something like that which make it into a "shinui". But, again, I am no posek.

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But does an action need to be done for something to be considered m'lacha? We usually (there are exceptions) do not consider speech an action. – msh210 Oct 26 '11 at 17:28

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