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29 August 2010

The Perils of Modern Living

With chips and sensors as well as voice and face recognition programs being added to almost all household appliances these days; it will be just a matter of time before these machines begin to guide us through our day. There are refrigerators that scan the contents inside and make menu suggestions as well as wine pairings. Dishwashers that will suggest that you run at a later time or even wait for another plate or two. I am surprised that my microwave hasn’t asked if I really wanted that bag of popcorn after communicating with my bathroom scale.

We are surrounded by smart devices already; we have our iPhone, iPad and iPod at the ready 24/7, just waiting for us to ask them for advice or directions or to entertain us. They let us know if the dishwasher has sprung a leak, they tell us we are overdrawn at the bank and ask if we would like to transfer funds to avoid an overdraft charge. The will lets us know that it is raining and would we like to cancel the sprinklers. And don’t forget to lift your feet, here comes the Roomba robot vacuum. It is just a matter of time before we will live in an iHouse and drive an iCar.

The US military has been developing software to recognize stress under battle conditions and to offer suggestions and possible alternatives to an otherwise shaken up officer under attack…not to make the decision for him, but to help him understand the situation and the options available. This program will recognize voice variation, increase in heart beat and breathing as well as facial cues as well as past outcomes of similar situations and all with a soothing and calm voice...it may even tell a joke to lighten the situation.

While traveling across Florida a few months back, I had the opportunity to experience the GPS that came with my rented car and I am convinced that it had some how been programmed with one of these new military smart chips.

Having traveled across Florida many times and for many years, I felt I knew my way around the state like a native, but once I turned on the device that had been taunting me for several hours on the road, it was like crack cocaine...I was hooked...there was no turning back.

I gave up everything to my new friend, I trusted her completely and without question with my welfare, even when I knew she was taking me in the wrong direction.

Maybe it was the long drive across the pan-handle in the middle of the night, maybe it was the hypnotic effect of the passing white line on a long stretch of Florida back road, but at some point we began to bond, The boundary between man and machine began to blur, I found myself having full length conversations, as well as deep discussion on life, including issues regarding my wife and children. Her voice was soothing, confident and so self-assured, but then like all relationships, things began to break down and as quick as it was to fall in love, it was as quick to end.

Around 2:00 am in the morning, in the middle of no where, it happened. We lost the satellite feed, how was that even possible? And then the misdirection’s and wrong turns began and started to ask myself, “where is she taking me and why?”

I knew it was over when she began to mock me. I had missed my turn, even though she had given me plenty of warning, and there it was, a tone. She said “You missed your exit…re-calibrating”. You could hear it in her voice and that was it, neither of us spoke for the rest of the trip to the airport. I even went so far as to turn the volume down and followed the signs to the rental drop off. On the shuttle bus to the airport, I began to think that I may have been a little too hard on her as I began to miss her voice and guidance and come to think of it, her advice about the kids was pretty right-on.

We are living in amazing times and talking to my GPS or arguing with the microwave about the popcorn may sound odd and it may take sometime to get use too, but on the other hand, how many of us talk to our pets or plants as if they understood.

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