On things

Posted: 12.09.14

If they are going to talk to each, what will they say?

Things, we have so many things. Bridges that design and build themselves, cute little computers in our glasses and light bulbs, presumably all talking to each other over the Internet, sucking up valuable bandwidth and annoying the NSA. And there will be cars that take you where you should go, not necessarily where you want to go (thereby dramatically reducing road-rage incidents).

The idea of sitting in an autonomously driven car that is traveling over an autonomously de-signed and built bridge, past a generatively designed organic-looking building while texting to your thermostat to turn on the heater because you’re coming home earlier than expected— and also start chilling the chardonnay—is discussed openly today. A few years ago, people discussed such ideas in secret for fear of being locked up as loaded on LSD.

After the big ideas get in the wild—and some early demonstrations are made that show the possibility, if not the feasibility of such concepts— then the more intelligent analysts, edito-rialists, and do-nothing writers explain to the public not only why it will never work, but why it shouldn’t work, and if not politically incorrect, it is surely an affront to God and nature. 

Then a few years later those same square-heads are using the stuff and pointing out how it was they who predicted it and even helped guide the de¬signers the right decisions and choices— those who write the history books …
I’m embarrassed to admit I live in a dumb house and drive a pretty dumb car. Sure, I have a few lights that turn themselves on when they see me, the cat, or a particularly energetic dust mote, and yes, the thermostat does seem to know when the temperature near it is within 3 to 5 degrees of a setting, and if you open a door or window after the alarm has been set, the police will be called, but that’s it, the rest of the house, although it contains some two dozen computers, is pretty stupid. The TV doesn’t know where the hell the AV system is, nor does it care. It sends its HDMI signal out and couldn’t care less about the consequences. The refrigerator thinks it’s done something wonderful to make ice cubes that I can never break apart, and it has no concept of the washing machine, stove, or pantry.

I want my refrigerator to call Safeway and order some more white wine and cheese; do I have to do everything? I’m busy trying to teach my STB what kinds of shows I like to watch— shouldn’t it know by now? We’ve been together for ten years.

And what’s with that stupid oven? Didn’t it know the refrigerator also ordered some frozen pizzas? Why isn’t it pre-heating itself in anticipation of my dinner?

I’d like my TV to ask if I want to watch The Black List when I walk in the living room, instead of making me have to use three remotes to get the damn thing to wake up, talk to the sound bar, and suck some content from the Apple TV box. Stupid TV.

I’ve been told my car will, or can, suck in all the new songs I got from Pandora on my phone, and it does do that sometimes when I get the phone in the car, but not while my phone is sitting on the kitchen counter, just a few feet from the router’s extension box. Stupid car.

I’ve also read about a sensor that will prevent the sprinklers from running when it rains. Wow—I designed and built something like that 25 years ago, and it worked for almost a year. Maybe the newer ones will send me a text message to let me know they’ve saved us some water, and oh, BTW, it’s raining at home.

So my things are mostly mutes, dumb mutes, and the few that could talk don’t know what language to speak in. Where’s the Esperanto of things?

How can autonomous robots build bridges and cars if they can’t speak the same language as the cloud that has the processors and algorithms for the design? I love the idea of things talking to things to do things I want, or might want done, I just haven’t heard anyone explain how they are going to actually communicate. Will the things in the Internet of Things be able to swear at each other if they screw up?