Remember that line from Star Trek - The Next Generation? "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." When I read news articles like this one, I really feel like this is the ultimate goal of the big technology companies; to "assimilate" all of us. It seems Amazon's plans for Alexa go far beyond simply offering the world a benign, productivity enhancing personal assistant for the masses. According to Rohit Prasad, head of Alexa development, "the idea is to turn Alexa into an omnipresent companion that actively shapes and orchestrates your life." Do you want Alexa taking a proactive roll in your life? Do you want an electronic nanny? I can just hear one of those conversations now; "Sarah." "Yes, Alexa?" "Are you really sure that dress you're looking at is right for your body type? You've put on a bit in the hips this year." Crashing sounds as Echo bounces down the front steps. I'm being a bit facetious, but this really is very frightening. I can see that conversation becoming more like "I'm sorry Dave. I can't let you do that." Perhaps the Borg reference is a bit much, but we're definitely headed for a world like those depicted in Gattaca and Minority Report if we don't get a handle on these technologies and the corporations creating them.
When I started this site, it was supposed to be mostly about expanding our imaginations and creativity, but this blog seems to be more and more about the abuse of technology and the perversion of the creative impulse. I'm not a Luddite or technophobe, quite the opposite. I love gadgets. I'm particularly enamored of Segway's new LOOMO. I can think up all sorts of uses for a personal transport that can do everything this one can, but I have no plans to buy one. The problem? While it's following me around or carrying me, or doing any number of other things at my bidding, I have no way to know what else it's doing on behalf of it's manufacturer and/or whatever entities they may have contracted with. We already know that our smart phones are constantly reporting our location, and that supposedly free apps are sucking up all sorts of data about us. Our drones won't fly into any area the FAA orders manufacturers to program them to avoid. So far, and in this one narrow case, that functionality has been used for legitimate purposes of public safety, but anybody who's ever heard the name "Edward Snowden" knows full well that this will not remain the case. Amazon Ring has contracted to provide customers' video to police departments across the country. That is opt-in and voluntary for now, but what guarantee is there that it will stay that way?
I won't be buying a LOOMO, because there is no room in my life for a gadget that might start taking pictures of people I interact with, video locations I visit, or even report me for, say, jay walking without my knowledge or consent after Segway pushes a software update. When I buy a gadget, I expect to own and control it. Completely. That is often no longer the case, and as our devices and appliances continue to get smarter, and like or not, they will, the trend will continue toward those devices being less and less ours, and more and more being an extension of corporate and government interests intruding into our lives. I don't want my refrigerator telling what I should eat, my thermostat telling me what temperature my home should be, or my car telling me where I can go ("Alexa, take us to the nearest Claimjumper." "I'm sorry John, your medical plan has flagged those locations as 'unauthorized' until your physician reports that you have achieved a ten pound weight loss. There's a public park nearby. Would you like do go there for a walk?").
Are we adults, who can make decisions for ourselves? Do we still have natural, God given rights? Do we want to control our lives, make our own decisions? We had better answer those questions, and soon. Google and Amazon will be all too willing to answer them if we don't.
I am, and have always been, unafraid to voice my opinions. In fact I believe everyone needs to vent now and then, and we all have a God given right to do so. I despise willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, and take a perhaps perverse pleasure in puncturing the politically correct proclamations of those who have anointed themselves as our betters. I could be described as a contrarian and a bit of a curmudgeon, having now reached an age at which those labels no longer sound odd. Not everything I'll address here will be controversial. In fact, I would rather keep that sort of thing somewhat limited (and it should surprise no one that I probably won't succeed in doing so). We already have our fill of whining talking heads on the 'net. However, if you are easily offended or thin skinned, you might want to skip this blog. You have been warned.