A team of French and Spanish boffins has, as you may have read elsewhere in this esteemed publication, developed a method based on artificial intelligence to detect whether or not somebody has coronavirus by analysing their voice and cough recordings. However, the success rate so far is a rather underwhelming 77%. This means that a quarter of those who have participated in tests were told they didn't have the virus when they did or they did have it when they didn't. Apply those statistics to Spain's current population of 47 million or so, and that would be twelve million wholly deluded people wandering about the place willy-nilly, if it were introduced on a national scale. No, I'm afraid that only a 95% success rate would offer the required credibility for widespread use.
Still, it gets a man thinking. What other, less serious, uses could voice detection technology be put to? Malingerers would think twice about calling in sick, having practised whimpering pathetically for the previous half an hour.
"Hello, boss I..I..I feel like death... I can't make it today and, since Thursday's a holiday anyway, I'd better take Friday off just to be sure. Hope to be back by Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or next month. Or something."
"Hold it right there, García - my spanking new voice-detection machine tells me that what you have is nothing more than a a hangover. Hang on, is that bacon I hear sizzling in the background?"
What if the technology went even further and was able to detect how boring we were?
"Hi, it's your new neighbours here. Just wanted to invite you round this evening for a house warming. There'll be Twiglets."
A flashing red light on our phone would tell us that mortgage rate chat is more than likely. Amber means a strong possibility of scrolling through interminable holiday snaps of the hosts' feet complete with a blue sea background. A green light means you're free to go but don't rule out conversations about cookery programmes you've never seen and never want to see like the Great Twittish Cake Off.
Best of all, perhaps the technology could be used for matchmaking. Instead of the current apps that allow you to swipe some poor sap from your screen and send them tumbling into a virtual landfill of the wholly undesirable, you could have people actually calling each other and the new gizmo would detect whether they were a good match simply by the way they spoke.
"Hi, this is Ted. I-"
"Stop right there, Ted, my machine tells me you're forty-three and you've got a skateboard. Next."
"Hi, this is Joe, I -"
"Stop right there, Joe, my machine tells me you - blimey, you've got coronavirus. Ah yes, this is my dad's old machine."