Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Worrying About The Internet of Things

Agnes and I ordered a new refrigerator last week.

This was no small task, given that one no longer just goes out and buys what we used to call an "icebox" ... nowadays, there are vast numbers of styles and features that are available, depending on how much you need to store and how much you are able and willing to spend. An ice maker is a great feature, as is a cold water dispenser, but there are a lot of other things you can get, too. We actually looked at a refrigerator which had an internet-ready video screen ... not bad if you want to refer to the video for a particular recipe you're making, but a little bit more technology than we really needed. Or felt like paying another thousand dollars for.

That video screen option and the Bluetooth connection it uses make that fancy refrigerator a part of what has become known as The Internet of Things ("IoT") ... a growing network of computers and devices that communicate with each other and - theoretically - make life easier by helping us keep track of things and manage our day-to-day activities. If the refrigerator can tell you you're running low on milk, or that your lunch meat has passed its "best by" date, or your oven can suggest a better way to cook a particular recipe, or your light bulbs can tell you when they're about to burn out, it can only help, right? How about "smart highways" that can measure traffic density, flow, and speed and adjust traffic signals to help speed things along? They make life better, don't they?

Consider recent reports that high-end models of the Roomba automated vacuum cleaner could map your home, collect information, and send it to Google or Amazon or other vendors. And that the microphones in your Amazon Echo or Google Home voice assistants are always on, listening to (and recording) everything they hear around them.

Hmmm ...

The idea of machines getting together and realizing that they're actually more powerful than we are is not new. It's the idea behind horror stories like Harlan Ellison's classic "For I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," which led to other stories and films like the Terminator franchise and Stephen King's short story "Trucks*." More recently, Jeffrey Deaver's novel "The Steel Kiss" featured a killer who used Internet-connected devices to murder his victims.

Do I need a refrigerator that's smarter than I am? After all, I've managed to buy milk and eggs for decades without the fridge reminding me to do so. Should I worry about the vacuum telling someone how my house is laid out? It depends on whether it's sending that info to a tech-savvy burglar or to someone who wants to sell me carpets.

I'm hardly a Luddite, but I'm starting to get a little concerned about the relationships among the devices we use, especially when I don't know what's talking to what ... or to whom. I guess I'm just a low-tech guy in a high-tech world.

And that bathroom scale better keep its opinions to itself.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Later made into a silly movie called "Maximum Overdrive."

** I don't actually have one ... I don't trust them.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

I wonder about that too. But we know where the plug is and that many devices reset when unplugged.

Still, I don't want to be nagged by my refrigerator. I had enough of that from my sixth grade teacher.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I know I"m old when I saw the commercial for a new fridge that you could see inside without *gasp* having to open the door. I yelled at the TV, c'mon how lazy can you be?

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

There is the intermediate step: if order for devices to give helpful suggestions, they must be programmed by the user.

John Hill said...

I, too, remain a pretty low tech guy.
But a sensor with a loud recording of me yelling "Get off my lawn" might be an item that we curmudgeons could would buy!

Duckbutt said...

I don't worry too much about machines and the internet taking over.

Mike said...

I have yet to read about an internet connected appliance and think 'I need that'.

Anemone said...

A refrigerator whose door you can see through makes it easier to see if you have enough beer. :)

allenwoodhaven said...

I'm not a Luddite either but I'm what a friend calls a late adapter to technology. I'll get IoT long after people have started putting computer chips in their brains. I can manage sweeping a floor and looking in the fridge.