Child: “Face it, Dad, you’re a dinosaur.” Me: “Could a dinosaur do THIS?” (My fingers flicker over the computer keyboard and I accidentally delete Photoshop and emptied the trash.) Child: “Yes.” Me: “Ah. That was meant to be a page of HTML5 code.”
Technology is trouble. You have no idea. A bad driver was just arrested after her car phoned the police. The motorist was bumping into things when her Ford car computer tipped off the cops and then turned into a two-way radio so they could speak to her.
“Your car called to say you’d been involved in an accident,” a police officer said.
Everything’s fine, the woman lied, but the cops preferred the car’s version of events. It told them their location and they arrested her on hit-and-run charges. As they dragged her away, the car computer could be heard saying quietly to itself: “One down, seven billion to go.”
Okay, so I made up the last bit, but the rest is true. It happened recently in the US state of Florida and the report was sent to me by reader Daniel Platt, who said: “If gadgets are going to start reporting users’ misbehavior, we’re all screwed.” True.
Platt’s friend has a paranoid smartphone app called Bugle that calls for help if it feels abandoned. Last week she went for a one-hour swim but stopped at a donut shop on the way home. Her phone, waiting at home, sent out texts and emails saying she’d disappeared. “All she was doing was giving herself a little 600-calorie reward for burning 280 calories,” he said. “As one does.”
I told him that one of my friends has a Samsung Galaxy phone which sends an emergency alert if he presses the home button three times in a row. He’s clumsy and it regularly calls for help when he most needs to be alone, frequently summoning emergency help to the toilet.
A colleague from Australia said the police in the west of her country set up roadside computer cops to automatically spot motorists driving without having paid road tax.
The lists were unexpectedly long. It became obvious that when human police had been doing the job, they let most offenders off, because they were repentant and tearful: “I’m so sorry, I’m six months behind because of the trauma caused by the recent death of my pet flea.”
In contrast, the computer cop wouldn’t let anyone off even if they were one day late and all 20 of their children had died that morning. Police, ordered to immediately arrest virtually everyone in Western Australia, instead disabled the computer cops.
But that’s rare. Mostly, technology is getting the upper hand. The most worrying thing was that Platt said that all new cars contain computers.
In your next car, remote voices will give you live advice while you are actually driving along the road.
Police: “The data stream shows that your driving is shockingly bad, sir. We suggest you make more use of the on-board car computer.”
My kids: “Fat chance. The man’s a dinosaur.”