KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Oct 19 2010

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The perils of modern living

KevinWith chips and sensors, as well as voice- and face-recognition programs, being added to almost all household appliances these days, it will be just a matter of time before these machines begin to guide us through our day. There are refrigerators that can scan the contents inside them and suggest a menu as well as wine pairings. And there are dishwashers that will suggest you run at a later time or even wait for another plate or two. I am surprised that my microwave hasn’t asked if I really wanted that bag of popcorn after communicating with my bathroom scale.

We are surrounded by smart devices already. We have our iPhone, iPad and iPod at the ready 24/7, just waiting for us to ask them for advice or directions or to entertain us. They let us know if the dishwasher has sprung a leak. They tell us when we are overdrawn at the bank and ask if we would like to transfer funds to avoid an overdraft charge. They let us know when it will rain—and would we like to cancel the sprinklers? And don’t forget to lift your feet: Here comes the Roomba robot vacuum. It is just a matter of time before we will live in an iHouse and drive an iCar.

The U.S. military has been developing software to recognize stress under battle conditions and to offer suggestions and possible alternatives to a shaken-up officer under attack…not to make the decision for him, but to help him understand the situation and the options available. This program will recognize voice variation, facial cues and increases in heartbeat and breathing, as well as past outcomes of similar situations—all with a soothing and calm voice. It may even tell a joke to lighten the situation.

While traveling across Florida a few months back, I had the opportunity to experience the GPS that came with my rented car and am convinced that it had somehow been programmed with one of these new military smart chips.

Having traveled across Florida many times and for many years, I felt I knew my way around the state like a native, but once I turned on the device that had been taunting me for several hours on the road, it was like crack cocaine…I was hooked…there was no turning back.

I gave up everything to my new friend. I trusted her completely—and without question—with my welfare, even when I knew she was taking me in the wrong direction.

Maybe it was the long drive across the panhandle in the middle of the night or maybe it was the hypnotic effect of the passing white line on a long stretch of Florida back road. But at some point we began to bond, the boundary between man and machine began to blur, and I found myself having full-length conversations with her, as well as deep discussion on life, including issues regarding my wife and children. Her voice was soothing, confident and so self-assured, but then like all relationships, things began to break down and as quick as it was to fall in love, it was as quick to end.

Around 2 am in the morning, in the middle of nowhere, it happened. We lost the satellite feed. How was that even possible? And then the misdirection’s and wrong turns began and I started to ask myself, “Where is she taking me and why?”

I knew it was over when she began to mock me. I had missed my turn, even though she had given me plenty of warning, and there it was—a tone when she said, “You missed your exit…re-calibrating.” You could hear it in her voice and that was it. Neither of us spoke for the rest of the trip to the airport. I even went so far as to turn the volume down and followed the signs to the rental drop-off. On the shuttle bus to the airport, I began to think that I may have been a little too hard on her as I began to miss her voice and guidance and come to think of it, her advice about the kids was pretty right on.

Kevin Henry

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Inspiration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1.  Monique |

    Thanks for your article Kevin. I love technology and can’t image life without all my helpful gadgets, although, I’m like static electricity when it comes to their operation sometimes. Especially with my gps! I skipped lowering the volume. I just hastily turned it off, jerked it from my dash and carelessly tossed it onto the passenger seat! But then, of course, I quickly checked it to make sure it was still working.