Fans of 80’s nostalgia will remember the headline from a hit song by The Police, the rock group lead by Sting. I’m sure it was intended as a love song, perhaps an obsessive love song. Um… well, actually, it could come across as the lament of a stalker.
Thirty-five years later, Sting is a senior citizen, and everyone’s favorite stalker is called Alexa. And, it doesn’t just connect to your entertainment systems. It can connect to a slew of everyday appliances and switches in your home, as well as devices that haven’t been electronic in the past. Smart toasters, smart wall clocks, and smart light switches are just the beginning. Tom’s Guide lists the best of them here.
While turning these devices smart may seem to be convenient or just plain fun, they represent a future in which the tons of data collected about our domestic existence enables Amazon and an extended network of merchants know whether you prefer rye bread; what late-night snacks you prefer; and, when you leave your home. There are ways in which this extended monitoring system when converged with the Internet can make your life better. Manufacturers could monitor home systems and appliances for potential near-term failure and take corrective action before they fail.
Getting back to Sting, however, one must wonder how our lives might change when Amazon is monitoring (and monetizing) “every move you make.” Apple aims to help us become healthier by monitoring our activity via a smartwatch. Connect the two – our activity and our consumption – and a future Big Brother could be telling us not only what to buy but also how to live. You might think that’s okay if we’re healthier. But you have to ask yourself who is deciding how you live. You or some unseen artificial intelligence?
There is no law in the U.S. that dictates how the use personal data must be limited or even how much companies must disclose about the use of that data. So, the desire for more devices like, for example, microwaves that take voice commands will enable a future in which all our needs and desires are determined by some unseen force. And, we will be fed a constant stream of advertising where the mere desire to have the latest and greatest will automatically extract money from our connected credit cards.
In my novel, “The Awakening of Artemis,” set 2049, the nation has evolved. Ninety percent of the population live in one of fifteen “pods.” Within the podosphere, augmented reality avatars act as personal assistants, and everyone’s reactions are monitored via a chip implanted under their skin. The monitoring system can determine what you like and want before you can conceive of it. The hero of the story resents the intrusion, to wit:
Diana’s self-driving car was having a nervous breakdown. While the traffic around her moved nose-to-tail like bullets being shoved into a chamber, Diana guided her chariot worm-like through the gaps, accelerating where circumstances allowed. The car’s software objected but Diana just hit the override switch on the side of the joystick – repeatedly. In the five months since she had been reassigned, she still chafed at the constant monitoring -- facial scanners reading her expression, algorithms that endeavored to meet her unarticulated needs -- and vehicles that piloted themselves.
She recalled the horror she felt when the Podosphere was announced as a public works project to pull the nation out of the second Great Depression – GD2, as it was called. Each pod was a self-contained ecosystem walled off like gated communities against the potential intrusion of the small percentage of the population that chose not to join the majority.
So, you have to ask yourself: which side of that wall do you want to be on?