Wednesday, 30 May 2018

21st century, electronic age, computer-driven stuff.

I just heard an item on the radio about voice-activated systems for switching on various electrical devices. We don’t have a really smart television; we upgraded our television set just before the really smart sets came along, the ones that just connect to your home wifi system. So ours needs a gadget to make it “talk” to the computer. And so we have a dongle which lets us have access to Netflix and the like. What’s more we can talk to it. Once it’s switched on you can instruct it to connect to Netflix, BBC iPlayer or whatever you want it to do. That’s the only voice-activated thing we have.

Some people have a whole lot more. Almost their whole life is “connected” and so they can walk into their house and tell the lights and heating to switch on. Really advanced people check up on their home via their smart phone while they are out and tell it to switch things on ready for their arrival. All very futuristic.

However, the radio item informed us, some people have been ffinding that the voice activated system did not let them listen to BBC Radio 4. When they requested it, the system simply told them it could not find any such thing or that Radio 4 was not available. So the Radio 4 people did some investigating and discovered that one system, possibly Hey Google, demanded extra politeness; you had request “BBC Radio 4, please”. Without the magic word, no Radio 4 was forthcoming. Another system, probably Alexa, demanded firmness: it was necessary say “Find BBC Radio 4 NOW” and then the system worked.

These clever devices are all very well, but ... There is almost always a ‘but ...’.

Here's one

Our daughter’s car has no key. At least, not in any conventional sense. It has a fob. With the fob in your pocket you can lock and unlock the car just by pressing a button under the door handle. Similarly you start the engine by pressing a button, which works while the fob is close at hand. Most new cars work this way, or so I am told. Clever stuff! Except that I heard a warning recently about thieves who have a device which manages to unlock the modern car provided the fob is within range, for example inside your house while the car is on the drive. Then they can enter the vehicle, pinch stuff or even drive away, while the owner thinks the car is safe and sound.

Modern problems!

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books there is a character known as The Luggage. It is, as it’s name suggests, a suitcase that follows one of the other characters around, if I remember correctly. (Time to reread the Discworld books, I think!) And now the people who invented the Vespa scooter have invented a suitcase, the Gita, that will follow its owner around. Essentially it’s a robot on wheels that can carry up to 20 kilos of stuff. The news article about it suggested other useful things that the modern traveller needs:-

  Smart glasses
On arrival at your destination, they switch to the local language and project phrases of your choice across them, such as “I am lost” and “Are you showing the World Cup here?”
  Home spray
Developed by specialists, it captures the scent of your home or a loved one to spray on your pillow if you get homesick.
  A tranquilising stun gun
For use on all forms of public transport to avoid boredom, children, discomfort, jetlag, etc. Enter age, weight and how long you want to be out for, and it’ll calculate exactly how many electrodes you need.
  Alarmed flip-flops
If someone tries to steal them, your phone vibrates.
  An easy-fit catheter
In case someone falls asleep next to you on the plane. More polite than waking up a stranger, and reusable if you follow the hygiene guidelines.
  Online beach booking
Split the beach into a few hundred identical-sized areas, clearly define said areas using lasers, then let people use the free hotel wifi to ensure that spot 12 in row D is theirs and theirs only for three hours the following day. Add swimming for €5.
  USB ports in all plug sockets
No need for an adaptor. How does this not already exist? How?”

Very good but we really should be careful what we wish for. Once the smart devices get really smart, who knows what could happen. Once more I am reminded of Hal, the computer in the film 2001 Space Odyssey, politely but firmly telling the spacemen what they could and could not do.

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