I’m not really looking forward to a world where my refrigerator counts my calories and tells me what I’m allowed to eat, or my water meter cuts me off mid-shower because I’ve used up my self-imposed quota of hot water. I can only imagine the things that might go wrong when my self-driving car decides to take me to somewhere other than where I want to go. Will I grab the steering wheel and try to wrest control away from the central computer? Will I be banned as a passenger by my own car, or just made to sit in the back seat, wearing restraints?
I sometimes mis-enter my security code in the alarm system. I know that. But other times I get it exactly right and the thing still refuses to disarm. Do you know how hard it is to type in the correct code when bells are ringing, gongs are gonging, and then phone calls start coming from the alarm company wondering whether they need to notify the police to race over and arrest the intruder who swears he owns the building.
I think machines are doing this out of spite. Maybe they’re jealous that they can’t walk and eat and have sex… yet. But how much longer until they’re not only outthinking us, but out-evolving us? Not only taking over our jobs, but also our mortgage payments, retirement accounts and our place in the food chain?
We keep coming up with new conveniences like calendars that announce appointments, tell us when to take pills, and record intimate conversations for later playback on the national news after our accounts have been hacked. Nowadays you can’t say, do or write anything without thinking of the possibility that someday the rest of the world may be watching, listening, or reading it. You may naively think you have privacy but there are cameras, listening devices, and techno-pirates lurking everywhere, ready to mock, impugn, or persecute you for a bad joke or drunken insult.
Apple just came out with a product called AirTag that uses a new wireless technology called ultrawideband which allows users to detect the precise proximity between objects. For instance, stick one of these tags on your elusive car keys, or your dog’s collar so that if he gets lost you can easily locate him with your iPhone (if you can find your iPhone). The app that does this (which really should be named “Hot or Cold” after the game we played as kids) tells you with arrows and sound when you’re getting warmer, warmer and finally HOTTER! and BURNING UP! until you pinpoint that your dog has fallen inside your next door neighbor’s garbage can.
Meanwhile University of California researchers have developed self-learning artificial intelligence (AI) software that lets robots learn motor tasks by trial and error. Imagine someday (much sooner than you want to imagine) a robot will be able to figure out how to do something you don’t want to do, like wash the dishes, or even something that you are incapable of doing, like correctly sorting out your wife’s laundry. The experimental robot is named BRETT, or Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks. I can’t help but wondering how soon BRETT will be performing many other tedious tasks such as walking the dog, feeding the children, and hiding your car keys at night to make sure you can’t sneak out to join the poker game at Louie’s Bar. But, not to worry, I’m sure there will still be some way to circumvent BRETT if he tries this. If you can only remember where you left your iPhone.