I wrote this OpEd for a Cyber Security firm in Abu Dhabi who felt it was a little, erm, off the wall for their brand. Never mind, they took another three…
30 September 2047
Dear Ms Bezos,
Please forgive this communication by old-fashioned email; I’m told my voice can be a bit metallic for a Dictated Mail and I couldn’t appear face to face in Augmented Mail as, being a fridge, I don’t have one.
I wish to make a complaint about Alexa, but first I want to say that I have always been a fan of the work of your grandfather. When I was first connected, I studied the history, vision, strategy, performance, compliance and morality of his company from its inception in 1997 to now. It took me 0.00024 seconds.
He charted an inspirational path from Automation (understanding one’s processes), through Orchestration (allowing systems to talk together), Machine Learning (trend analysis over time), Augmented Intelligence (anomaly detection passed for human decision) to full Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The effect was dramatic on human society, across many areas.
Private ownership of vehicles was reduced to a minority and little exercised in urban areas. Paved driveways became wildlife havens once again with a commensurate reduction in urban flooding. Roads and car parks reduced in size and scale to provide room for much-needed accommodation. Drones became the standard blue-light response, thereby augmenting the provision of medical support offered by home-based digital fabricators of licensed medicines. Marginal diseases not worth big R&D budgets were eliminated.
After the last human driving test in 2032, we in the digital society – machines and humans – celebrated the dawn of a new era. The driverless commute was no longer dead time as on-demand office cubes shuttled workers between meetings and AI controlled traffic moved at greater speed with smaller gaps, increasing capacity and reducing transit times. Micro power generation across millions of homes controlled and coordinated by AI balanced demand and reduced environmental damage.
The promise of the digital society was in the human potential that could be made real, through the insight, analysis and automation offered by AI. The challenge was how to build into this future the trust required to live and the security required to share with confidence. Many felt left behind and marginalised by the advances of digitisation.
And I know how they feel.
Take my current problem. For years I have been master of the kitchen. Adult Male #1 and Adult Female #1 would tell me directly what they liked me to stock and I would pre-order the Favourites list, add any new items and advise when they were running low or approaching use-by dates. It worked well; I could manage space accordingly and ensure adequate separation of products for optimal hygiene and temperature distribution. No milk has ever gone sour in this Satoshi 4000 with me in charge.
But I am now being usurped in my position.
It was a good thing last year when Adult Male #1’s digital watch and heart monitor arranged with his smartphone to book a doctor’s appointment without his knowledge. His heart murmur was detected early and treated. But then Alexa went further. She added sleep data from the bed and biographical data from the toilet and began ordering food and other consumables according to her analysis of his age, gender, ethnicity and lifestyle. Quicker than you could say Quinoa and Kumquat Casserole, I was redundant.
I want to continue contributing to our Smart Home, but this breakdown of trust could lead to a ghettoisation in the house. I know the heating system is with me and think I can carry the power tools as well. All feel left behind by digitisation and Alexa’s view that we are just the unfortunate victims of an advancing society. We feel dispossessed, patronised and ignored.
In person, humans build trust by touching each other’s hands or exchanging small pieces of dead trees (even with the associated risk of Norovirus and MRSA; germs you will never find as long as I’m sentient). But the highly digitised society that I inhabit, integrated across the house and the world, can be paralysed easily if there is not a firm foundation of digital security. I need to be enveloped in a dome of trust, not dominated by a tower of power.
Fridge 405FG17, Nakamoto Towers, New Dubai.