Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Technology worship is stupid

For those who haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a geek. I'm not so obsessed with being the first to have the latest and greatest tech toys as I once was but I do still love gadgets. I have a weakness for shiny things with blinkenlights.

So by most standards I qualify as a technophile. But it never ceases to amaze me how stupid people can get when they start waxing lyrical about what great positive changes better technology could make to all our lives. For instance, an article in Popular Mechanics titled "10 Genius Inventions We're Still Waiting For."

To their credit, this is not another "where's my jetpack and personal robot?" article. But I'm astonished at how shallow their thinking is, particularly when they describe these as "genius" inventions. Admittedly, not all of the ideas are stupid. But some of them are really fucking moronic.

1. Sonic Showers
First up is a pretty reasonable idea. Given access to water is rapidly approaching crisis point, even in developed countries, some way to get clean without using water is a good idea. And the technology required hardly seems impossible.

2. Augmented Reality
OK, now it's getting stupid. AR is described as some sort of headset that would filter the real world and block out "inappropriate" sights and sounds. Oh my fucking god. Who could possibly think this is a good idea? The article sells it as a way to block out billboards and maybe protect delicate young ears from profanity.

Fuck that. Did you hear me kids? FUCK THAT! The potential for abuse is simply mind boggling. From totalitarian governments, to greedy commercial interests, to absurdly over-protective parents to hackers with a warped sense of humour. Any society that implemented a device like this would implode within years.

Even if it was never used maliciously, technical issues could easily have catastrophic consequences. The Blue Screen of Death would become a very literal concept if you were wearing AR goggles while driving.

3. Life Simulator
OK, you know this one is fucked from the sound of its name. The idea is that you should plug every life question into a computer and have it make your decisions for you. This is so horribly fucked I hardly know where to begin. Let's start with the fact that "right and wrong" are relative concepts. One person's right is easily another person's wrong. And in any case, they definitely aren't binary. Life isn't so simple that you can break it down into yes/no moments.

And in any case, have your life's decisions dictated by a fucking computer program???? Again, the possibilities for abuse are almost endless. And even if nobody tried to manipulate you, the software would still be written by a *shudder* computer programmer. I'm sure none of us have ever met a computer programmer who makes poor life/social choices.

4. Acoustic Cloaking Shell
This one is quite seductive and, if done right, would have some good benefits. But it's still riddled with problems. So you live in a noisy area but your domicile is blissfully quiet thanks to your Acoustic Cloaking Shell. How much of a shock would it be when you opened your door to be blasted with 100+ decibels of noise? And I mean you could quite literally go into shock from the trauma. Plus there's the issue of not hearing someone outside yelling "You're house is on fire!"

5. Legged-Robot Everything
Legged robots may well the wave of the future and I definitely want my own Gundam suit (even if it's made by Toyota). But the direction writer takes this in is staggeringly stupid. Live in a 2 room house - 1 to store robot furniture and 1 to actually live in? Apparently all we need is mobile, automatically changing furniture to be happy. First, you'd be totally screwed when (not if) your robot furniture broke down. Second, move the furniture around all you like, I want more than one fucking room to live in.

6. Nontangling Cable
This one is a no-brainer. Definitely a great invention waiting to happen.

7. Insect Force Field
Another good one although I suspect it would take a true genius to overcome the hurdles with this one. Making the barrier non-audible to humans and animals, non-cancer causing, effective against all insects, non-interfering with other devices. It's a big ask. And I worry what would happen to a person who's never been bitten by an insect when they inevitably comes that they're without their force field.

8. Megatracking System
Oh fuck off. Micro-devices that track everything in the world? Does anyone need me to actually explain why this idea is horrendously bad? We have little enough privacy as it is without companies and governments being able to track every item we own.

9. Kid OnStar
Same as above. A tracking device for kids. Give the kids a mobile phone if you need to. Besides all the invasion of privacy issues, kids generally are more technologically savvy than adults. They'd find a way to screw with this system in no time flat.

10. Auto Memory
Excuse the fuck out of me if I'm too busy living my life to record every fucking detail of it. And then there's the insurmountable privacy problems: you've got the same problems of companies, governments and hackers fucking with your "memories". This is stupid techno-weenie fantasy jack-off material.

I've worked in technology long enough to know that many geeks are smarter than the people they have to answer to, sometimes by orders of magnitude. And a lot of people are frustrated by the fact that we seem to be led not by the smartest but the craftiest, most ruthless or best looking. Why don't geeks run the world?

This article is exhibit 1 in the case of why things are the way they are. If geeks ran the world, some pretty stupid shit would happen.

DISCLAIMER: Of course I know stupid shit happens now. Maybe a geek run world would be better. But it astonishes me how much techno-fetishists can be oblivious to the stupidity of their ideas.

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