We keep hearing about apps. This is short for “applications,” which is a synonym for “useful tools.” Many apps belong to smart phones. These apps do everything from summoning the rescue squad to performing brain surgery. A global positioning app can identify the location of every hardware store in Lafayette, La., was induckted (bad joke) into the hardware industry.
One of the app-happy things coming down the pipeline is the super-connected house. This will be a home in which humans are necessary only to press a remote device containing 138 buttons. Each button will trigger a different app that will perform a useful chore. Such as turning on the TV to CNN so that we can keep close track of whether Justin Bieber has been arrested in the Ukraine for drinking grappa with a Crimean transvestite.
Minor connected-home apps have been available for years. They include TV remotes, light bulbs that switch on at dusk, garage doors triggered by your car’s headlights and electric food cookers that turn off as soon as the pot roast resembles a chunk of granite. For decades, pre-set bedside alarm clocks have awakened us to the music of Brahms or Mick Jagger. And so on.
But if recent technology reports are correct, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Before long Mr. and Mrs. Erg and their teen-age twins will leave the house each morning confident that their home is fully connected and therefore protected. Every two hours the back door will open and let Osgood the Great Dane into the back yard. A recorded voice will summon him to come back in. When the postperson arrives with the mail, a camera inside the mailbox will scan each item and transmit its nature and importance to the adult Ergs. If a stranger approaches the house, another camera will take his/her picture and send it to the local police station. There, a computer will plug the mug shot into an international photo file to reveal if the stranger is a member of the dreaded Hamster Cartel that kidnaps infant hamsters and sells them to perverts in Arkansas.
Incoming landline phone calls will be relayed immediately to all four Ergs as voice mail for their cellphones. Every room in the Erg house is equipped with a thermostat, a smoke alarm, a camera and an electric motion sensor. If a mouse, rat or cockroach is detected anywhere in the house, the varmint is tracked to its home base and destroyed by infrared radioactive drones piloted by atomic bug-zappers.
Before you and I install any of these new devices in our super-connected homes, we should think about the end result they may produce. It is this: a race of humans who seldom think, move, worry, decide or breathe on their own. Thanks to technology, everything will be done for us. Gizmos will awaken us each morning. They will choose our clothing for the day, and lay it out on the bed, where magic extender arms and fingers will assist us in dressing. In the kitchen or dining area, a pre-selected breakfast will await. On the radio or TV, a news program (whose content will conform to our socio-economic-political leanings) will bring us up to date on the waiting world. Before we depart for work, school or country club, the click of a few buttons on the Family Remote will assure that our home is transformed into an impregnable, super-safe fortress. In the evening, these processes are reversed.
There will be awkward moments, of course. When teen-age Eddie Erg and his girl friend go up to his bedroom for an hour of afternoon delight, an Erotic-Warning sensor – which Eddie has forgotten to disarm – will send a message to his parents: “Statutory rape or unwanted pregnancy alert is now in force. Please advise.” If Eddie’s sister Ramona neglects to do her homework each night, an electronic monitor will disable her cellphone, laptop and the ignition to her car.
And so on. The super-connected house may make George Orwell’s “Big Brother” scenarios seem like Mardi Gras. In exchange for relieving us of our bothersome daily chores, technology may create tailor-made prisons out of our own homes. We will be well on our way to total AI (artificial intelligence) and its inevitable goal: human redundancy.
Then again, I could be dead wrong. Many experts predicted that email and Facebook would bring an end to civilized conversation. But all around me I see people squinting at their iPhones and swapping messages with friends next door or at another table in the very same restaurant. If that’s not verbal intimacy, I don’t know what is.