My cell phone is concerned about my health and well-being. As I was out walking earlier, I had my headphones on listening to some music. A good song came on and I hit the volume button to turn up the sound. Instead of increasing the loudness of my music, my phone popped up a warning message telling me listening to loud music for prolonged periods could damage my hearing. I then had to click a button indicating to my phone that I understood its warning. Also, it didn’t turn up the volume. It’s nice that my electronic devices care so much about me. Thanks, Mom...err...phone.
There’s something to be said about our electronics mimicking genuine interest in us as human owners. It really feels like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics in action. I can’t help but wonder if the R & D geeks at some of the major tech firms actually use SF principles as guiding development concepts for their new products. Siri certainly has some interesting answers to deep questions that pre-programmed computer applications shouldn’t cognitively be aware of. You know, because she’s a disembodied representation of the tiny computer inside your iPhone. (It is supposed to be a she, I think, though if you ask, Siri will say “I was not assigned a gender.”)
Apple’s so-called “knowledge navigator” was designed to help the user find out information, search the web, give directions, and the like. However, if you ask Siri a question no one really knows the answer to, she will draw from science fiction for her response. For example, if you ask her what the meaning of life is, she will tell you 42. If you ask Siri whether you should take the red pill or the blue pill, she will say that whatever choice you make, she will be there waiting for you when you wake up.
But, to clarify, our technology has not become self-aware. Thankfully. We should definitely avoid that kind of Terminator Skynet world destruction scenario because despite the awesomeness of Linda Hamilton’s biceps, nearly everyone dies instantly when the machines take over. No, this is less about scary machines and more about technologically-generated empathy. Since our devices have all been designed by (what I’m assuming are sad, lonely) humans who crave companionship, we end up with phones that are very concerned about our feelings and whether or not we will be healthy enough to continue to use them, at least until the next iteration comes out. It’s quite touching really. The cold, hard edge of the computer age has a softer side after all. Like Sears.
The future of technology is exciting, isn’t it? The next innovations in older electronics will not be about efficiency or added features but will be I, Robot-like interest in their owners’ safety. For example, the next generation of microwave ovens are slated to come with gentle audio warnings about radiation when users stand too close to them while cooking their Chef Lonely Heart’s Soup for One, instilling the hope that someday they may meet that special someone and will need their reproductive parts functional.
In summation, I hope my next phone comes with little arms that extend to give me a hug and utter a Stuart Smalley sounding affirmation about being okay whenever I accidentally drop it on the sidewalk. I already say “sorry, phone” whenever this happens.