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How remote can we get

Posted: 07.28.11

In our future world, which seems to arrive every day we are at first amazed by the newest development and then soon jaded and waiting for the next. We live Moore’s law, only faster. (I wonder if Gordon Moore lives Moore’s law, now that’d be ironic.)

We know our future world will be one where everything that uses electricity and most things that have warm blood will be connected to the Internet. That will be so we can communicate with them, and they with each other. My car will have conversations with my media server and my calendar and they will decide what I should listen to tomorrow on my drive to Silicon Valley. My car will also interrogate all the gas stations within range of what’s left in the tank to find the best price, at the lowest acquisition cost—i.e. the price per gallon plus the cost of getting to the gas station and back on the freeway. One day it will make the trip to the gas station, possibly at night without me.

We can now use our mobile phones and/or tablets to control our TVs and maybe game consoles. No more dedicated stupid un-IP remote control units on the coffee table. And pretty soon we won’t even need our mobile phones to change the channel or volume; we’ll just wave our hands at the TV. Or maybe we’ll even be able to simply tell it what we want. Yelling at the news takes on a whole new meaning now—what if you could yell at your TV as some (unnamed) people do in our house when some jerkoff politician is explaining to us how he or she will save the economy by shutting down the government. And then, what if those helpful comments you were making could be automatically and instantly texted, or spoken to the politician—now THAT’d be representative government!

We may get there, a step at time.

Remember when TV remote controls were connected to the TV with a wire? Remember before there was any kind of remote control. In the way old days the remote control was when one person would tell the other person, change the damn channel will ya? Have we progressed or what?

So today we can use our Smartassphones (SAP) to do the job until the other person rips it out of our hands and threatens to jam either down the garbage disposal or up a personal part of our body. But why do we have stop with the TV?

Why can’t I point my SAP at the microwave and have it make popcorn? Why can’t I point it at the thermostat and raise the temperature?

When those things finally get their own IP address I will be able to do that with my SAP via the web. Now hacking takes on a new dimension. Give me $10,000 demands the kid a few blocks away, or I’ll turn your air-condition to -25-degrees and freeze you to death, I’ll open and close your garage door opening repeatedly until it jumps its tracks and falls on your expensive German car—you can see where this leads.

It leads to remote control chaos. If everything can be remotely controlled, then everyone can do the controlling. If my personal information can be hacked by Russian gangsters or irritable teenagers, why stop with my social security number? And who is the best, scariest hacker of all? NSA, that’s right. So now big brother takes on a whole new meaning. Getting off the grid takes a whole new meaning too. Now being remote becomes something we talk about wistfully, about how good it was in the old days before everything was connected and controllable remotely.

This is the dark side of the singularity when the machines of our lives communicate and slip out of control, or maybe break out of control. This is where HAL decides we are a menace to the mission and forgets Asimov’s three rules for robots. And our only hope of regaining mastery over the chatting machines is to override them with our trusty remote control unit, if we can only find the damn thing.