Not so smart technology

Not so smart image

We’re always being told about the ‘advent of smart technology’.  It’s as though a technological breakthrough to our daily lives is just around the very next corner and it’s going to improve every single aspect of our being, from what and how we eat and sleep to how we manage our homes.  It’ll look after what we watch and tell us what new music to listen to (and automatically set the tempo and volume).  

That’s a lot of being told what to do, and just when I’d thought adult life meant independence.

Worst of all isn’t just that this is all a bald faced lie (the utopia is both not around the corner, and not that smart), but that that what we think of as smart isn’t even where we would most want help with our lives.

Many of the smart technologies are either incompetent, or else they work fine, but…  Let’s be honest, I’d like to know whether my baby’s nappy is dirty without lifting them up to my face and smelling their arse more than I’d like to know how many steps I’ve taken today.

Here are some of the culprits which pull the wool over our eyes:

The not so smart

Any good smartwatch tells the traffic outside.  That’s potentially quite useful when planning when to leave work.  Seriously though, who needs to be told traffic updates via synaptic buzzing every 15 minutes.  

It buzzes in the middle of the working day as much as in the middle of the night.

My two year old knows when I’m at work and when I’m not.  Have we really not got to the stage where a human incapable of speech is more adept at identifying the working day than all the server technology Azure can buy?

Perhaps more smart would be to look at my diary and give me a traffic update if I’m actually going out.

It’s not just smart watches either, Hive can turn your central heating on when you’re a couple of miles away from your house.  I sure hope I get stuck in a load of traffic or I don’t need to bother taking my coat off when I get in.

watch image unavailable, - not so smart!

If you liked…

Perhaps the simplest of the AI’s must surely be if you liked x, you might also like y.  We mostly expect these to be wrong 9 times out of 10.  Perhaps not completely irrelevant (if you liked Murder She wrote, you’ll like Saw 7), but if it’s even tangentially right, we’re ok with this.

Amazon have been doing this for years.  When we buy a washing machine, it happily recommends 9 more, potentially cheaper, better ones.  That’s not smart, that’s moronic.

Perhaps the only reason we settle for this is because many shop assistants aren’t exactly a whole lot better, as they vaguely direct us to the sugar in some far corner of a massive grocery store with a mere wave of the hand.

Netflix seem to have gained good a reputation for their algorithms, one can only assume because when you’ve finished watching Top Gear, the thing you’d like to do most is watch ten identical, but worse, shows.

algorithm definition currently unknown


The nanny

To solve this sad information gap, some smart devices go the other way,  To help us, they give us a nice, simplistic view of the world with all the information we need to know, as we need to know it.  Usually pretty pictures abound.

Take any news aggregator.  Start with a broad slate and then watch as you slowly disappear down a narrow corridor of your own viewpoints reflected back at you.


The pointless

In a world where we either can’t work out how to download an app to our phone unless an app store packages it up for us, or don’t trust it, are we seriously going to trust our cars to drive themselves.  For those of us without internet connected bulbs (let’s not start there), we still check the lights are off before we go out.

Yet Tesla have done just that, and successful derived hundreds of thousands of real autonomous driving miles, good for them.  

One day, driverless vehicles may save lives (despite what we said here).  That’s a worthwhile pursuit.

They’re not going to be controlled by sat nav are they?  By that, I mean the thing that can’t find where I am until I’ve already arrived at my destination and then tells me I’m still 25 miles away?  The thing that doesn’t work if it’s raining or cloudy or snowing or if there are big buildings nearby or…


Let’s face it, we’re like toddlers with a new toy.  It’s full of possibilities and it’s shiny.  Fun yes, but useful…

smart image gone!