I’m Bored With Dumb Electronics

In a conversation with my friend Jason Harris yesterday, we were chatting about why I’m bored with cell phones. It’s the same reason I’m bored with my laptop and my coffee maker – they’re all dumb electronics. They all sit dormant, inactive, until I input something. Then, activities happen based on my input, after which the device again waits for my input. I’m tired of telling electronics what to do. I want controlled AI.

Most of the things that I do with my electronics are predictable, with few variables. When I boot up my laptop, if I have a WiFi signal, I usually immediately launch Digsby, MediaMonkey, Firefox, and Seesmic Desktop. If I don’t have a WiFi signal, clearly at least 3 of those applications are useless, and I wouldn’t need them launched. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t any software (that I’m aware of) that lets me create conditional boot sequences, triggered by the presence of WiFi, or anything else, for that matter. I would also like my computer to know when I’m traveling (using GPS, perhaps?) and to not download *any* updates automatically while I’m traveling. Again, unfortunately, no can do.

My coffee maker annoys me more. It is, without question, one of the more mundane electronic devices that I own. Every day, I take out yesterday’s filter and grounds and put in a new filter and 2 scoops of grounds. I then dump out whatever coffee remains from yesterday, refill the pot, and pour that into the reservoir of the coffee maker, and then put it on ‘scheduled’ mode, which I’ve set to start brewing at 6am, so my coffee is fresh and hot when I wake up. No part of that is variable, it’s a very precise process that happens daily. There’s no real reason it shouldn’t be automated for me, technologically speaking.

Another household appliance that I’m *really* waiting to see get smarter is my refrigerator. If all my food had RFID chips in the label, my fridge could keep track of when I bought and used my food. It could tell me, for instance, that my milk is set to expire in 3 days, and I had better use it. It could tell me that I have leftovers rotting in tupperware in the back of my fridge for the past 3 weeks, and all manner of other really helpful information. This was done as a hack job back in 2007 – why isn’t it on the market in 2009?

This brings me to my phone. Of course, my mobile phone usage is much more variable, and would need to adapt to me in various ways. However, there are things that it could do for me, quite easily. Since I use a Symbian-powered smartphone (currently the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic) and sync with Google and GooSync for contacts and calendar, I’d like for those synchronizations to happen automatically, over the air.

The built-in GPS navigation should be improved, as well. When I’m traveling, I’d like to not only easily look up nearby gas stations, but I’d like the software to only look ahead down the freeway – NOT in a circular radius, as I”m incredibly unlikely to drive more than ~2 miles off the freeway just to get gas. I would also like some automation in terms of various minute settings. I’d like for the screen brightness to automatically dim as nightfall comes – not only would this save battery life, but it would also make my phone less blinding when I use it at night.

Location is one thing that I really would like to see my phone use in a more intelligent way. I’d like it to know that I’m at church, and automatically silence the ringer, or even perhaps stop checking email until I get out to the parking lot.

Technology is supposed to enrich and enable our real lives, and there are so many ways it could do so automatically that I would love to see.

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