Remember the old TV show "Knight Rider?" It was about a guy with a modified Pontiac Trans Am named KITT that had a built-in computer brain and the ability to carry on intelligent conversations with its driver. Obviously a lot of budding young automotive engineers watched the show, because today most cars do indeed have computer brains and many can talk to their drivers. Admittedly, the conversational abilities of most cars is limited to a set of voice commands (sometimes as many as 10,000 of them), and canned responses that can be used to activate and control a few of the car's features -- especially the GPS, the entertainment system, the environmental controls and mobile phone. But can it be long before your Prius wants to have a chat with you about your stock portfolio or the odds on the Red Sox winning the next World Series?
A lot of auto manufacturers now supply fully integrated in-vehicle communications and entertainment systems in their cars and trucks, like Ford's SYNC and Fiat's Blue&Me, that not only provide a common interface to most of the car's electronic functions but also voice recognition software that can be used to control those systems through an elaborate set of commands. The number of commands that these systems can understand is growing by the day and it would likely take a small manual to list them all. (In fact, such a manual may have come with your car.) On the next several pages we'll look at some of the most useful of these commands to see what they can actually do now, and what they may be capable of in the near future.