The internet of things. That’s where a physical object that is somehow “smart”, communicates with other objects. For example, a fridge that reminds its owner to pick up milk via their smartphones as they pass a supermarket, or a self-governing HVAC system that tracks weather via a weather station and modifies climate control accordingly. It may all seem like a neat idea, I mean let’s put a chip in everything. We could make Lego kits that build themselves, or I could put an embedded system in my apricot tree to notify me when one of those thieving squirrels is raiding the tree. But the reality is that we don’t need this level of pervasiveness in our lives. Yeah, sure it would be neat if my fridge warned me when something was nearing its expiry date, but in order for this to work I have to scan things as I put them in, or have the fridge keep track of it but adding yet more complex technology to it. But this also means that fruit and vegetables would have to have a bar code as well. Will the fridge have some sort of olfactory sensors to tell when food is going off? Look, at the end of the day, a fridge keeps food cold. It doesn’t need to do anything else. More intelligence means more complexity, and a greater likelihood of problems occuring.
Do we need this many devices connected to the Internet? Do I need my washing machine connected? My toaster? Do I need to be providing the manufacturer with a whole slew of data on my clothes washing habits, or what bread I toast? The simple answer is NO. Because it’s all about “Big Data” – companies collecting data about your consumer habits. If you believe its designed to actually help you, you’re kidding yourself. The more things that get connected, the bigger the security risk. Anything has the potential to be hacked.
I like programming, and computers do some cool things for us. But they don’t need to run our lives the way they do. We spend too much time in front of the machine, and not enough time actually thinking. There was a time when I thought about putting in a smart thermostat, but when Nest had that issue with the “hand-waving” algorithm in their smoke detectors, and just remotely switched the algorithm off, I thought otherwise. What if they could remotely switch off my furnace? It is all too big-brotherish, so I’ll stick with simplicity for the moment. My refrigerator isn’t going to be any less efficient because it is “dumb”. In fact knowing how badly tested some of this software is, I’m okay not having it in my house.
Every once in a while we should realize that there is a world around us, go outside, and experience it. Not automate it.
P.S. As food for thought, the average modern refrigerator has a lifespan of 10-18 years, due largely to lack-of-quality, and the ubiquitous “built-in obsolescence”. There is at least one fridge in the US which is 87 years old and still running. So modern refrigerators are more efficient, but I need to buy more of them over time because they don’t last as long. Go figure.