he magnificent movie theater in North Kansas City, Screenland Armour, was showing 2001: A Space Odyssey the other day. That’s a fantastic movie, obviously. But it’s even more fascinating to watch in 2019 as we await the eventual birth of the HAL 9000. “Open the pod bay doors, Hal.” “I can’t do that, Dave.”
Technology has crossed the Rubicon. It is everywhere in our lives. On our watches. Our phones. Our kitchens. Our bedrooms. It is in our headphones and cars. It is at work, and at the gym. And we’re at that critical point where technology is providing just enough value to overlook that it all sucks.
It started, for me, with a small Amazon Echo Dot that I put in the kitchen. “Alexa, set a pizza timer for 11 minutes.” Almost gleefully, she said, “Timer set for 11 minutes.” She was so eager to help. The sky was the limit. An assistant at my beck and call.
And what did Alexa end up doing? Well, pizza timers, mostly. She’d occasionally give me a very generic weather forecast. “Rain chances today. High of 52.”
Because of the audible nature with which we need to interact, I was unable to use Alexa when my wife was sleeping, or at night.
This didn’t stop me from expanding my digital assistant harem. Oh no. I recently added a Google Nest Hub to my bedroom. It has a digital display that I quickly turned into a digital photo display. Neat! And then I would ask it the weather. “Rain chances today. High of 52.”
I’ve tried to ask Alexa and Google more complex questions. “Alexa, when will it rain today?” “Rain chances today. High of 52.” “Hey, Google, will it rain during my drive to work?” “Rain chances today. High of 52.”
These assistants will eventually be able to do extremely complicated tasks. “Hey Alexa, I’m running late to work. Can you move my 8 a.m. meeting back, can you cancel my spin class, and can you run the Roomba vacuum cleaner 15 minutes after I leave the house?” And it all gets done. “Hey,Google. Can you start my car, open my garage door, turn my radio to 101 The Fox, and also tell me when the garbage truck is due so I can make sure my trash is set out on time?”
But for the next few years we’ll be saturated with glorified pizza timers, while the artificial intelligence “learns” what we want these assistants to do. For now, we get “Rain today. High of 52.”
How long will we have to wait until these devices can do complex things, and how long do we have to wait for the AI to be intelligent enough to predict our next moves? “Good morning, Dave. You’re running five minutes late to work. I’ve already started your toast. If you go 635, you can shave three minutes off of your commute, and I’ve got your shower started.” This will be the evolution. Basic tasks. Complex tasks. Predictive tasks and then… Well, HAL 9000.
“Dave, you’re late for the fifth time this month. I have contacted your boss and explained the situation. You’ve been fired. I have already applied to three job openings for you, and have frozen your checking account until further notice. I’ve also written a Dear John letter to your girlfriend, and set her up with a Tinder account.”
I guess for now we should just be happy with “Rain today. High of 52.” I’m going to go make a pizza.
(Get more from Chris Kamler on Twitter as @TheFakeNed)