Our future with gadgets and technology
Let’s think about the future, and specifically about connected devices.
Say you have a smart coffee maker – it’s tied into your alarm clock and knows to make your coffee just how you like it for when you get downstairs.
It’s smart enough to know that you didn’t get enough sleep because you were up late, and it used a stronger roast than your typical beans.
You also don’t wake up feeling like a zombie because your alarm has been monitoring your sleep cycles and wakes you up at the optimum time, i.e. not in the middle of REM sleep.
What a way to start the day huh?
But let’s take it a step further. Let’s say your doctor recently diagnosed you with a heart problem and told you that you shouldn’t drink too much of your dark nectar of the gods. Should your coffee maker, knowing this, give you that third cup of coffee? Knowing that it could contribute to your heart problems and possibly kill you? Well unless it’s actually a sentient AI that wants to kill you … I don’t know. But I think it’s a fascinating idea that these devices could help protect us by monitoring all these data sources.
What happens when a business knows you?
The idea of a program knowing you and your preferences isn’t new. To a large degree, this has become common practice on the web. That’s why when you’re searching for the new iPhone, you tend to see ads for that iPhone everywhere. There are companies that specialise in identifying website visitors for businesses, and they’re able to do a scary amount of guesswork that allows a business to tailor their site to that specific user.
Here’s an example:
Mr. Joe Collins clicks a bookmark to the homepage of his favorite electronics store, Best Electronics. Before he arrives, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes. Based on his IP address, Best Electronics knows that he lives in a certain part of town; they also know the type of internet browser, screen size and operating system he has based on just visiting the page.
Just from his geographic area (which is fairly well-to-do), they can guess that Joe makes at least £30k annually. And because his neighbourhood is largely for families, they can presume further that he’s got a wife and kids.
With the added information of his browser, OS and screen resolution, Best Electronics can tell he has a Macbook Pro Retina, further cementing their assumptions of his income. As a result, they tailor the products featured on their homepage to include other Apple products and accessories in the mid-upper price range.
But Best Electronics has access to an even better gold mine of information thanks to browser cookies (read up at lifehacker to learn more about cookies): Joe’s history of browsing on the Best Electronics website. Before he’s even logged in, Best Electronics knows that this is the same visitor who has been visiting the page for the new iPhone, reading up on all its specifications and looking at accessories. Based on previous user data, they know that online customers typically buy on the fifth or sixth visit to the same page, and they know based on Mr. Collins past behavior that he fits this model perfectly.
But disaster strikes! He leaves the page, perhaps going to buy it somewhere else? Best Electronics can’t have that, and so their systems kicks into gear and sends an email to Mr. Collins’ email address (the one he provided last time he ordered a phone charger) with an offer of a 5% discount on the new iPhone along with the case he’s been looking at, if he orders today. Because of a special sale especially for him.
This might sound fantastical, but it’s not. Businesses like Amazon and Google use this every day. A university could use a method like this to tailor their images and wording to the geographic location of their visitors: American students might see more pictures of other American students, or Chinese students will see testimonials for their particular course in Chinese characters rather than just English. Is that more spooky or helpful?
If this is all too worrying then I recommend the Heavy Duty Reynolds Wrap, it’s really great stuff. In 95% of fictional lab tests it defeats mind reading attempts, but you need to make sure your tin foil hat fits snugly on your head or it’s all for naught.
Websites and connected smart devices: who’s interests are at the core?
In regards to the web, do we trust whichever site we’re visiting to have our best interest in mind? Will they use that information to manipulate us into buying more than we wanted or when we wouldn’t have otherwise? I certainly wouldn’t expect a business to do anything else, and society at large tells us that we’ll be happier with more ‘stuff’.
With connected smart devices, will we see a day when those devices will be able to have access to data about and make decisions that are best for us? Or will the coffee machine be primarily focused on merely making us coffee? If it were to cut off our flow of that lovely morning brew, who decides when and how much?
Will future smart TV’s know when to cut off our binging of Netflix series, and will they?
I think smart devices have an incredible potential to help improve our lives, and as much a potential to be more dubious. I think we need to be well informed and researched on the type of data these devices will be collecting and receiving, because if misused it would be a major violation of our privacy and security. I’m excited to see how smart devices progress over the upcoming years.