Hover Cars, Smart Appliances, Talking Coffee Pots—Oh My!

Below is a paper I wrote in my first quarter of college, back in 2004. I thought I would share it because it makes several references to technologies which were very experimental or didn't even exist at the time but have since come to be fairly mainstream. In particular, the last two paragraphs make several references to technology such as smart watches, smart appliances, checking weather on a device, voice activated computers, etc. which are all fairly common and growing in popularity now that the "internet of things" is beginning to really take off.

 

For years science fiction movies have been attempting to predict the future. They have made wild suggestions that we will have hover cars, laser guns, and transporters. However it is quite fascinating to see some of the more realistic predictions become reality; such as super computers that accept voice commands, cars that can drive them selves, and smart home appliances that say good morning to you at breakfast time. Many of the advances come to relieve us of some burden and take some responsibility off of us, however if we are not responsible for what is going on, something has to be, and that can lead to a loss of privacy and personal interactions.

Ever since the wondrous invention of the credit card, your buying has been tracked, but that has been taken to a new level in recent years. Safeway and other big chain stores offer customer loyalty cards to save you money; however they offer the cards in exchange for personal data that can then be used to track buying habits and categorize customers for more efficient product placement in the store and advertising at home. This process is called data mining and creates a lot of fear in people who value their privacy. However, if that is what a business wants to do, it has the freedom to do so and over 20 national chains have joined in. Many grocery chains have joined their databases together in order to access more personal information. When buying on the internet you have to give out your personal information in order to receive the goods at the right place, and using that and buying history many websites such as Amazon.com advertise specifically to you according to what types of merchandise you like. Once a business can track buying habits, and the habits of others they can suggest products to us based on other’s purchases right in our mailbox.

Of course a shopping card can be easily disposed of, but there have been some rumors about chip implants over the years which have a much greater potential of misuse. The following is a quote from the website of Applied Digital Solutions, a leader in implant technology based in Florida, about a product they are marketing called VeriChip:

Once inserted just under the skin, the VeriChip is inconspicuous to the naked eye. A small amount of radio frequency energy passes from the scanner energizing the dormant VeriChip, which then emits a radio frequency signal transmitting the verification number.

Applied Digital Solutions hopes to begin selling that chip in 50% of medical practitioner offices in the coming year in 125 countries. If a chip can identify us just as our social security number can, then we may one day live in a world where you have to fear someone walking by with a scanner that can pick up information sent over a normal radio frequency.

While there are many conspiracy theorists out there feeding off of scares related to technological advancement, there are aspects other than privacy to look at. Walk into any Wal-Mart and you can walk out with merchandise without ever seeing or talking to an employee of the store—by checking yourself out. Self check-out technology is beginning to catch on and while it may be convenient it will inevitably put people out of jobs and lessen personal interactions with real people. It may seem like a novelty—because it is new—to check out on your own, but as we have observed with telephones: if there is not a real person on the other side, we feel a loss in morale and want to do it the old-fashioned way. In addition to just checking yourself out some stores even allow you to pay using your fingerprint. Indivous is the company responsible for the fingerprint payment system. Their vision is to one day put fingerprint payment systems in as many places as you pay with credit cards now. That would mean a database several times larger than any credit card company's subscribers with fingerprints, names, addresses, and credit card numbers used for automatic payment. While forging a fingerprint is not exactly easy, a database with that type and quantity of information can make one a little uneasy.

The future of our world merging with technology is not all feared though, there are many great advances in technology on the way that have a great welcoming awaiting them. In Star Trek a crew member can give the computer voice commands to do pretty much anything, and that very same voice recognition technology has been in the works for years and is in use with expectations of perfection within the decade. Our military is developing some of the most advanced technology in the world. They have created a program called Future Combat Systems which is working on reusable missiles, unmanned vehicles of all types, and adding technology to everything imaginable, for example: each soldier will be able to “log on” to a military internet and see what is going on in every combat situation around them.

From a more local view we will one day wake up and find that we are in the belly of technology according to Bill Gates. Gates promises we are moving into what he calls the, “Digital decade.” Gates’ first contribution to the digital decade is a smart watch, which receives up-to-date weather information, sports news, schedules your appointments, gives you a listing of movies at the local cinema, breaking news headlines, stocks, quote of the day, trivia, and plenty more; plus I think it even tells you what time it is. This technology is part of Microsoft’s SPOT program which stands for Smart Personal Object Technology. Gates’ plans to take every type of personal device and use his techno-thumb on it until we have clocks that update themselves using wireless internet, refrigerator magnets that show road conditions for the commute on tiny LCD screens, TV’s that access digital photos and video on our computers in another room to display on screen, and computers in everyone’s pocket.

Technology’s future is quite hard to predict but most certainly fascinating. From the current developments it appears technology will go just as far as our imaginations allow it to go. Tomorrow may revolutionize the average American—while sending our electric bills through the ceiling. You could wake up at precisely 6:30, check the weather outside on your clock to see what clothes to put on, turn on the stereo and walk around the house as the music follows to get some coffee that the coffee pot so nicely made at 6:00AM on the dot. Shortly after that you’ll confer with the closest refrigerator magnet that tells no lies and ask it which route to take to work and check the stocks on your watch at red lights, once in the office elevator, send an e-mail on your pocket PC to let everyone know you have arrived and what the quote of the day is and let them know the show times of movies to go see after work (if they accept fingerprint payment of course). After exhausting the eyes with tiny LCD displays everywhere you make it to your office chair, sit down and scratch that pesky itching implant just under the skin of your arm.