A.I. – what’s all the hype?

The computing community is always caught up with some sort of hype. In the early 70s it was “structured programming” (which thankfully had some context to it), in the late 80’s it was OO, and now it appears to be A.I. Although to be truly honest, there is neither anything artificial nor intelligent about most software and products with this label attached. But it is a good label to attach to products to sell them. The Nest is a smart thermostat, because they tell you its smart.

“Nest learns your habits and temperature preferences, and even learns when you’re at home and when you’re away.”

It’s almost like its your friend, helping you out. But it’s not smart, its just following an algorithm. The Ecobee3 is somewhat smarter, but that’s because it can uses wireless remote sensors to determine where you are in your house. But it’s still only an algorithm:

  1. Check all motion sensors for activity, and remote temperatures.
  2. Adjust temperature based on occupancy of rooms, and remote temperatures.
  3. Wait a certain time and repeat.

So the Ecobee3 might be the smartest of all the smart thermostats, but that’s only because it has more data to make decisions with. Dogs are smart too, because they can be taught to fetch balls. Dolphins are smart (maybe smarter than us if you’ve read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“). But devices? products? They aren’t smart. I mean they do learn, but that’s because they have been told to. A thermostat doesn’t one day think something like… “I like the heat, feels like a beach in the tropics,  so I’m not cooling the house today“. Smart appliances? They get marketed in the context of making your home smarter.

“Forget to turn on that load of dirty clothes in the washer? No problem. Choose a wash cycle and turn it on from virtually anywhere.”

Whoa. That’s not smart. That just means that you are starting the washing machine remotely. A smart machine would remind you after 5 minutes of loading it that you haven’t turned it on: “Hey, it’s been 5 minutes, you going to wash this laundry?”, or maybe it’s smart enough to wash it itself: determine the load size, what’s in there (whites? colours?), select a cycle, and WASH. Give itself a self-diagnosis, and clean itself whenever it needs to. Determine when detergent is running low, and order it’s own. Now *that’s* smart. Anything else is just programming.

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