Monday, July 21, 2014

Creepiest thing I've seen so far this year.

Trendwatching's announcement of one of the major trends to, uh, watch had every goose bump I own honking. "The Internet of Caring Things" is what the April briefing is called, or "Why consumers will embrace connected objects with a clear mission: to actively care for them."

"A network of connected objects brought to life by a clear mission: to actively care for consumers – their physical and mental wellbeing, homes, loved ones, and more" it goes on to say, and is accompanied by a crushingly sad photo of an elderly woman in some kind of home clutching a stuffed animal.

There is something about people seeking love from something completely non-sentient that just lights up every creep warning on my board. Even a hamster will show you more genuine affection than a vacuum cleaner that's been programmed to simulate love. You may love Teddy Ruxpin, but Teddy Ruxpin cannot love you back.

Although he is fond of Grubby.
Not that I don't show affection toward or otherwise anthropomorphize objects I come across. Of course I do. I am quite fond of my car, and have been known to pat the hood after a long and successful trip. I've loved my home since it was studs and floorboard. I don't sit around and talk with these things, but I can imagine what they're like. I'll bet you could come up with a character description for every car you've owned: burly and lazy, snarky and unreliable, peppy and cheerful. And when some chair leaps in my way and stubs my toe, you'd better believe I attribute malice to it.

But it seems like the trendwatchers are expecting us to be so addled, so love-starved, so pathetic, that we're going to go nuts for a toaster that can make cooing sounds. We don't even know if it's going to be possible to create artificial intelligence, real consciousness in a man-made object, and we certainly don't know if it's going to be a good thing if we do. (If it is a device capable of making its own choices, why on earth would it choose anything good regarding us time-limited meatbags? A period like this in which the scientific community is cynical about the origin of ethics is a bad time for the creation of a monster.)

Some people get very excited over AI research, but it seems like planned human obsolescence to me at best.

These kinds of things never bothered me much when I was a kid. Hymie was just another pal of Maxwell Smart's. Rosie on The Jetsons was just a member of the household. (Yes, I know what Futurama did to her, thanks.) Now I'm less certain that A.I. creatures can be our buddies.

Isaac Asimov wrote more fiction about robots than anyone, and yet even he seemed to be overwhelmed by the question of artificial consciousness. If you know what became of the murder-solving robot sidekick in Caves of Steel, or the answer the "The Last Question," you'll know what I mean.

And I refuse to watch the apocalyptic movie with the robot kid and Teddy Ruxpin schlepping around after human extinction.

So with all this on my mind, I have to ask: Can't we all agree that the Uncanny Valley may be fun to visit, but nobody wants to live there?

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