Death by Appliance
Apr 07, 2016 12h01
● By Bryan Scott
By Peri Kinder
I’m pretty sure my hair dryer tried to kill me. Its cord wrapped around a drawer handle, pulling the dryer out of my hand where it crashed into my shoulder and hip before smashing onto my foot. It’s not the first time I’ve been attacked by a machine.
It got me thinking — if regular appliances can figure out how to bump me off, imagine how easy it will be for smart appliances to murder unsuspecting homeowners.
I remember when the Clapper was invented. It was pure magic. You clapped your hands, your lamp shut off. Simple. Non-threatening. But I’ve watched enough sci-fi to know technology can become unspeakably evil.
Let’s see: I can let my phone control my lights, heating, power and bank account. Yeah, nothing can go wrong with that.
Advances in technology (i.e., ways to make us lazier) move shockingly fast. When Isaac Asimov laid out the rules for robots (they can’t kill us, they have to obey, etc. — kind of like the rules we give teenagers), I don’t remember the robots ever actually signing anything promising to abide by those rules. We just assume our machines won’t kill us in our sleep. (Kind of like teenagers.)
Now, your fridge has all kinds of power. It notices you’re out of milk and alerts a farmhand in Nebraska who gets jolted out of bed with an electric shock so he can milk a cow and send a drone to drop a gallon of milk on your porch.
Your toilet can analyze urine and tell the fridge to add minerals (or rat poison) to your drinking water. The next step will be a toilet that realizes you’re pregnant and immediately posts your happy news to social media sites.
There are security cameras you can access through your phone to spy on your kids, spouse, pets and neighbors.
At what point do these “conveniences” become intrusive? Will toothbrushes sneak a DNA sample and send it to the FBI? Can hit men track you through your cell phone with voice-recognition apps? Could your phone run your fingerprints when you pick it up? Conspiracy theorists’ heads will explode with all the frightening possibilities.
And if you think dealing with moody humans is bad, try putting up with passive-aggressive appliances. You’ll hurt your toaster’s feelings when it overhears you say what a good job the microwave did heating up your meatloaf, and suddenly your toaster will barely warm the bread. Your refrigerator will dispense water e-v-e-r s-o s-l-o-w-l-y after watching you use filtered tap water one too many times.
If scientists want to be helpful, they can create a washer that stops automatically when it senses a dry-clean-only shirt, or notifies you if your bra gets tangled around a blouse like a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of a wild boar.
They could design a smoke alarm that won’t beep at 3 a.m., scaring the dog to death and prompting him to sleep in my closet for two days. They could create a vegetable crisper that would send rotten broccoli to a neighborhood compost pile. Or how about a bathroom scale that locks your kitchen pantry when you overeat on the weekends?
Currently, there is nothing “smart” about my home (including the residents). But I predict someday soon, my nightmares won’t be about circus clowns or spiders; they’ll be about microwaves gone amuck, or hair dryers that finally figure out how to finish me off.