I installed my Nest Thermostat a little over a year ago. This “learning” machine was billed as being able to study the habits of people and adjust the settings to optimize both temperature and energy usage.
But ever since then I’ve found myself in a constant battle with my thermostat. It’s cooling things down when I need heat, warming things up when I’d rather be cool, and the amount of energy it’s saved is far less than the loss of productivity I’ve experienced from being uncomfortable.
This is also true with my other “smart” devices.
My washing machine still doesn’t understand the fabrics it’s trying to wash. My smart door lock still doesn’t know who I am. And our home security system does a far better job of keeping the good guys in, instead of the bad guys out.
Much of the “smartness” we’ve added to our lives has been in meager doses, slightly better than before, but not much.
That said, the level of intelligence in our homes, cars, clothes, and offices is about to move quickly up the exponential learning curve as connected devices combine remote processing power with everything around us.
Our orange juice bottles, cans of soup, and boxes of crackers will all have a way of reordering themselves when inventories get low. Toasters will soon be toasting reminders onto the sides of our bread so we won’t forget birthdays and anniversaries.
Biometric coffee makers will know exactly how much caffeine to put into our coffee, and our fireplace will even know what color of flame we’re in the mood for.
If I’m feeling ill, not only will my devices know what’s wrong, they’ll be able to scan my home and give me a quick recipe for a cure.
“Add 2 oz of turpentine from the garage, 3 tablespoons of shoe polish, four capfuls of Listerine, and 2 cough drops to a cup of boiling water, and what floats to the top will fix your problem.”
I refer to this as “MacGyvering medicine.”
Our learning machines will pave the way for a hyper-individualized world where everything around us syncs perfectly with our personal needs and desires. But that’s the point where the train begins to derail, and all our best intentions start to work against us. Here’s why.