According to a recent article in the New York Times, a stampede of smart appliances is heading toward the homes of America… perhaps even yours!
Amazon invited reporters to its Washington state headquarters last September to show off a dazzling array of 70 new devices or services, all “smart” and internet-ready.
One such item was a smart plug that automatically connects to WiFi and guarantees that any smart appliance plugged into it will obey your voice commands. That confuses me, though — how was the appliance smart before, if it needed a special plug for that?
And just what kind of commands would you be giving an appliance anyway? After “coffee maker on!” and “coffee maker off,” what is there left to say? “Coffee maker, tell the toaster it’s a slacker?”
Another smart gizmo was a microwave oven that was powered by Alexa. The Times reporter was entranced by the possibility of someday avoiding “the fuss of having to push buttons to pop a bag of popcorn.”
We might even be able to bark out instructions without ever leaving our sofas… except, who is going to take the box out of the cabinet, carry the popcorn to the microwave oven, open the door and put it in? And as long as you’re up, what’s so hard about pushing the button marked “popcorn?”
My problem is that the folks who do the automating never automate the parts I most dislike. Let’s say I buy one of their smart refrigerators, which rats me out to Amazon whenever the flaxseed or kale runs too low. And let’s assume that their drone has found me, and succeeded at leaving the box of groceries on my doorstep.
My question is, who’s going to do the tedious work of putting it all away? Not to mention throwing out all the fuzzy blue leftovers, to make room for the new stuff? Who’s washing out all the yucky Tupperware, and taking the garbage bag to the curb? Certainly not the coffee maker!
That part doesn’t interest anyone in Silicon Valley, apparently.
Amazon said it was working to make Alexa “more opinionated and personal.” That’s great. Just what every home needs: another teenager! A bionic one, to boot — so that not only does it think it’s smarter than you — that’s nothing new — but it can turn off your lights and your phone if you violate its curfew.
Amazon, Google, and Apple are racing each other to be the ones to supply us with smart doorbells, surveillance cameras and front door locks. What could possibly go wrong with that? You might even be able to access the video from your neighbor’s front doorstep. The corporations say it’s so we can see why our packages go astray, but I think we’ll be finding that many more things go astray than just packages.
Not content with causing trouble around the neighborhood, the tech giants want to connect every home with the entire grid. That means a pretty big world.
What I don’t see, anywhere, is how anyone will help us when that grid goes down. Or worse yet, when it’s been hacked. My own personal computer crashed last week for 36 hours, and my life was difficult enough, trying to type all my emails on my smartphone’s excuse for a keyboard: “PLs excxsuse tyyypos…” I did not look smart. But it could have been so much worse. At least my computer wasn’t running anything truly essential… like the front door lock… or the microwave…
Or the toilet!
The most amazing smart appliance now on offer is an internet-connected, smart toilet…for a mere $7,000, or thereabouts. I say that for that kind of money, it had better put the seat down itself. It had better clean itself, too.
But even if it does all of that, still I have to ask: How smart does a toilet need to be?
In fact, let’s just ask the toilet: “If you’re so smart, how come you’re still just a toilet? Don’t you aspire to anything higher in life?”
“Like what? A bleeping microwave oven?”
OK, toilet’s got a point. If there’s one thing I need less than a bionic teenager, it’s a smart appliance with a potty mouth.