In the early 1950’s, Isaac Asimov predicted that the Robots were coming and that when they arrived they wouldn’t be welcome, not on earth anyway, where the hidebound, suspicious Earthers lived. That’s why robots worked off planet for big corporations. Six decades later and robots are living among us, and most of us even like them. That’s because they are proving themselves indispensable. Perhaps if they looked like Asimov’s metal men or androids we’d recognise them for what they are. But they are disguised.
Robots have silently slipped in through the back door one at a time and they come bearing gifts. My kettle and washing machine beep at me as does the car’s locking mechanism. The navigation system guides my car and my iPod offers me newer and improved apps. Who can resist devices that both entertain and free us from drudgery? This paranoid duck tries to but it’s getting harder.
Would you laugh if I said that fridges (or their descendants) will one day rule the world? There’s a brand on the market that works in tandem with a smart phone to shop online, track the use by date on your products, and recommend healthy eating plans. And as someone once might have said, ‘build it and more will come.’
Would you be pleased or alarmed if I told you that pretty soon, some appliances will be able to negotiate with your power supplier for a better deal?
What about forks? How would you feel about forks that keep you from making a pig of yourself at the table? The fridge may offer healthy alternatives but it can’t keep its icy eye on your manners. So it sent the smart fork (it’s called a HAPI fork) to deal with you). If you’re scoffing down an éclair at a rate of knots, the HAPIfork emits a gentle rebuke.
If you’re having problems with raised toilet lids or the people who leave them up in the middle of the night when you’re least expecting it, you might want to move to Japan. A Japanese housing equipment manufacturer called Lixil has launched a range of Bluetooth toilets that are controlled by an Android app. (For the technologically challenged people like me who had to look it up, an Android app is a software application. Are you any wiser? I’m not sure I am.) The toilet flushes, activates a bidet stream and keeps track of your toilet habits. Perhaps that’s why I’m feeling queasy.
I’m reminded of an episode on Star Trek next Gen called Evolution. A genetics experiment has gone wrong. A bit Frankenstein, but in this case the monsters get to live and in fact evolve into sentient beings. Two Nanites, tiny robots originally created to enter living cells and interact, replicate and evolve ‘to the point where they have become, in effect, a civilization capable of intelligent thought.’
Perhaps it’s not the fridge after all. They’re too cumbersome. They may be the dinosaurs of the electronic world dominating lesser beings for an instant in time, then gone without a trace. Nanites might be the go. It’s less bizarre and less science fiction than it sounds. Technology has often been influenced by science fiction: cell phone, submarines, space travel, Arthur C Clarke’s artificial satellite Why not Nanites?
I’m just wondering, if we keep letting fridges tell us what to eat and forks how to eat it and if toilets control our bowel movements and Nanites our brains, what’s left for us to do?