Yesterday I needed to see something in a darkened corner of my office. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my iPhone5, held the button that summons Siri, and said, "Flashlight."

Suddenly the corner lit up. Holy frickin' Apple genius! Siri found my flashlight app and turned it on.

My phone and I experienced. . . a. . . moment. I swear it felt like love. Literally. There was just something so accommodating and surprising about the flashlight working exactly as I hoped it would. I use Siri often, but usually just for setting an alarm or sending a quick text message. Those situations are cool and often convenient, but they do not feel like love. I expect Siri to do voice-to-text, and I expect it to set my alarm clock on command. What I didn't expect is that my command "Let there be light" would be obeyed. It made me feel godlike. In all seriousness, it was a rush.

I realize that this sounds like an Apple commercial, but I remind you of my history of despising most Apple products. Every Mac I've owned had been a lemon. My first iPhone was a total disaster. The iTunes interface is a mess that looks a Microsoft product from the nineties. My original version iPad pisses me off every day. Prior to the flashlight moment I had resisted Steve Jobs' Rasputin-like powers of seduction that now extend beyond the grave.

I own Apple stock because it seems underpriced, but I've never been a fan of the products despite buying them far too often. The iPhone5 changed that. It is an extraordinary feat of engineering. I am not kidding when I say I feel emotion for it. The designers and engineers at Apple have crossed some sort of psychological barrier that will someday be recognized as one of the great transitions in civilization. They literally engineered love. And by that I mean they created a device that stimulates my body chemistry in a way that feels somewhat similar to love. And I think that accomplishment will someday be seen as a bigger deal than we recognize today.

Suppose someday an industry standard is created to promote this sort of machine-generated love. The standard would simply allow anything in your environment - from your automobile to the rooms in your home - to respond to you individually, immediately, and sometimes surprisingly, the way an iPhone5 does. And perhaps the environment could be interacting with the smartphone in my pocket to make some of those actions a reality.

Suppose you had an industry standard for light bulbs and light switches that allowed any room to sense who is in it and convey that information to the electronics and other appliances in the home. Wifi-enabled light bulbs already exist, so this isn't a stretch. Let's say your light switch can detect motion and heat, so it knows when a room is occupied. It can also do facial recognition via its Internet connection. It knows who belongs in the house, including friends. It can pick up Bluetooth signals from phones that come near. Your phone also uses its GPS to tell the room it is near. The cloud holds my list of personal preferences, so as I move from room to room, my environment conforms to me.

The lighting adjusts to my preferences when I enter, and shuts off when I leave. If more than one person is in the room, the system intelligently negotiates priorities. For example, if one person is located in a bed, the room light will stay off when a new person enters.

My heating and cooling adjust according to who is in the house and what time it is. Even the curtains are automated.

According to my profile in the cloud, my television turns on if I am near it in my house between 9 pm and 11 pm in the evening. The screen goes to the DVR recording page and shows only the shows I liked enough to record. As I walk from room to room, the show follows me to each TV and pauses while I'm in hallways or the bathroom.

I walk to my computer and it knows who I am before I even touch it. No password needed. The screen pops to attention as I approach it.

Someone rings the doorbell and both my phone and TV present a picture of who is at the door. No cameras needed. The doorbell sensor identifies the visitor, either by facial recognition or by his phone's signal, and his profile picture is sent to the TV and my phone. His phone and mine are automatically connected through the cloud. I just say, "Come on in, Bob. The door is unlocked." It's not actually unlocked until I say it. The home listens to me, understands the context, and unlocks the door electronically.

When Skype-like functions are on every television, and there's a flat screen on every wall, all you need is your Bluetooth earpiece and the walls will seem to respond to you. Say, "Call Shelly" and the nearest TV fires up a Skype call. Whatever room Shelly is in, anywhere in the world, fires up the nearest TV screen and connects my call. If she's walking down a public street, the street cams show on my TV, switching from one to another as she walks and talks.

My dog's collar also has a location sensor and a speaker. I say aloud, "Where is the dog" and the house says, "The dog is in the kitchen."

Most of what I described is unsurprising to any sci-fi fan. It's the sort of thing we've seen predicted for decades. All I'm adding to the conversation is two notions:

1.       Done right, the user will feel something closer to love than simple convenience. Apple has shown that to be possible.

2.       To get to that awesome future, the world probably needs some sort of an industry standard for sensing human locations, identifying people, accessing each person's profile in the cloud, and negotiating preferences when there is more than one person in the room. And you probably need some standards for user interfaces that are common across all devices.

This is one case in which I'd like to see an activist government organizing industry players to create such a standard. Imagine the economic growth that could happen as the world transitions from our current heartless environment to one in which every room and every device shows you love the way an iPhone5 does.

I also think this future world of machine loving will be a partial cure for loneliness. This will seem like a stretch, but hear me out. When I lost my ability to speak for over three years, I felt lonely even in a room full of people. It turns out that you can only cure loneliness by feeling heard, not by hearing others. My iPhone5 hears me and does its best to understand and respond. When my entire environment starts acting the same way, I think I'll feel less lonely even when no other human is in the room. I'll feel heard, even if only by a set of connected machines.

I think the future for senior citizens will be bleak until this sort of technology arrives. Every elderly person I know is severely bored and lonely. It is human nature for young people to prefer spending time with other young people and to limit their time with the old. I think it will be a huge boon to the elderly to live in a machine-love world in which their environment responds to them, and they can connect to any living person with just a verbal command.

Machine love: It's the future.

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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 1, 2012
This reminds me of a Japanese short-movie I saw about a whole population of people becoming recluses. The movie focused on the convenience of home-delivered pizza and a man who becomes dependent upon the deliveries as his only connection to the outside world. Eventually he becomes enamored with a delivery girl who has some sort of restart button on her thigh (or somewhere) and ventures out of his home to find her. Outside, he finds a world of recluses like and him and society has broken down. In any case, I think machine-love would end up in this scenario.
Oct 30, 2012
Here's a book trailer for Siri & Me: A Modern Love Story (no, really truly):

Oct 29, 2012
Good luck with all that Scott ... I "embraced" the technology boon years ago and now have all the gadgets, not on the level you have of course, but enough. And ... my spirit is now mostly dead .... I am going back to hand writing letters and using the pony express until it dies. After that I will hand deliver them ... I will get to see more of the world that way. I want no part of the world you descibed.
Oct 29, 2012
Sung to the tune of Cars:

Here with my phone
I feel safest of all
It can turn on a light
It's the only way to live..

iPhone, iPhone

Here with my phone
I feel safest of all
It can lock all my doors
It's the only way to live...

Oct 29, 2012

Check out Scotts blog from May 28, 'The Digital Crossover'
Oct 29, 2012
I've read through the comments, and there doesn't seem to be anyone yet who's responded with reservations about replacing feelings of love and acceptance from a machine instead of traditional human relationships. Okay, I'll do it. I find it a bit troubling. The main thing that troubles me is that those kinds of feelings have to go somewhere - you can't feel love if it just bounces out and comes back to you again. In your case, Scott, it went to the manufacturer, ultimately - to Apple. Hmm... giant corporations manipulating our senses of love and belonging... what could go wrong???

I already have teenage daughters that have a pseudo-addictive attachment to their phones, but at least it's tied to instant messaging and communicating with actual people. If they were as fanatically attached to the phone itself, separate from contact with others, I'd be extremely concerned.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
I have very different feelings when I use Apple products. More along the lines of "How the h*ll is this supposed to work?!?"

But then, I don't have an iPhone 5, I'll grant you that.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
>> I say aloud, "Where is the dog" and the house says, "The dog is in the kitchen."

iPhone 5 does that now with Find My Friends (as long as your dog has an iPhone!) But seriously, I love saying "Where's my wife?" and the phone, which previously let me identify which contact my wife was, fires up Find My Friends and shows me where in the world my wife is -- or at least, where her phone is.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2012
My dog dislikes your utopia and I completely understand her POV. She is a master at disguising her presence when my husband (not a dog fan) is around. For example, she is not allowed to sleep in our bedroom, but she does - on his side even. Life would get far less pleasant for her if her collar suddenly started giving her away!
Oct 28, 2012
This sounds fantastic - wireless interfacing with the whole home, and indeed life experience. Brilliant.
On another note, I spent half my weekend trying to install a new w-fi router, following the wizard CD, the manual (which contradicts the wizard CD), the support phone line and my far more techy relative - all without success.
Just give me a f******g button that works OK!
Oct 28, 2012
Ive used iTunes. Ive used winamp. Ive used Windows Media Player. Winamp comes close but iTunes is my favorite of the three.
Oct 28, 2012
Wouldn't what you are proposing be a godsend to the security people? Agree completely about the iTunes interface being awful though. A company that seems to get so much right is also capable of getting so much disastrously wrong.
Oct 28, 2012

I guess what this means is the feelings we have for our gadgets depend on what we grew up expecting our gadgets to do. Which in turn means it will be harder for the engineers of the future to make the people of the future love their gadgets the way Scott is talking about.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 28, 2012
Gratitude is an amazing rush. I grew up without power, hot water or various other things that a lot of people take for granted. I remember the rush when we upgraded from a kerosene lamp to a gas light! And there are still times I get a rush of appreciation when I turn on the hot tap or flush the toilet. To those people who say the rush will subside, I guess it does a bit, but that doesn't mean it will go away entirely.
Oct 28, 2012
Interesting - my last comment used your wife in the phrase "S h e l l y, dinner!" and it ended up as "!$%*!$%* dinner! She who must not be named?
Oct 28, 2012
Love is supposedly unconditional. But what if your machine hates you back? You can get emotional when you say "Lumos" and your flashlight switches on, but if you command !$%*!$%* dinner!" she would soon start to resent you.

The more intelligent your machine gets, the more it is going to be a VERY complicated relationship. Will your iphone start to resent you dictating to your desktop computer? Or, indeed, the time you spend talking to your wife?
Oct 27, 2012


By the way, searching for 'dust' doesn't bring this strip in strip search.
Siri, make dilbert strip search as cool as Google!
Oct 27, 2012

When I was young restrooms were labeled 'Men' and 'Women', the power switch was labeled 'On' and the eject button was labeled 'eject'. Looking back on it now Im surprised how easily we got used to the new labels for these and a hundred other things. The point is, while there may be something to your point, I think that, in many ways, we'll get used to the way Apple/Google/Microsoft want us to do things.
Oct 27, 2012
I'm a long-time home-automation enthusiast with a fairly complex system in my house - so let me raise what can be a fly in the ointment - The "magic" to Scott is that, with minimal cues, the system "does the right thing". Unfortunately, "the right thing" varies from person to person, which suggests that some custom programming may be required in each household, and to do that programming currently requires someone with the mind of a programmer.

Here's a great analogy - I fell in love with my Harmony remote. Before then, all unifying programmable remotes required me to make some compromises either in functionality or ergonomics (i.e., they made me fit into someone else's paradigm of how the remote should work), and no one else in the house could figure them out.

The Harmony (for the unfamiliar) gives you a level of customization an order of magnitude above others. I've literally thrown ALL my other remotes into a box somewhere and the harmony does it all, not only for me, but is intuitive for the others in the house (something the old remotes never were).

The price? Hours programming it to do exactly what we all here thought it should do.

(If you're interested, check out models 650 or 700. <$100 and will change your life - and no, I don't work for them).

So, yes, I agree with others that a lot of the hardware is out there, and more is coming, but until we face the reality that everyone thinks things should be a little different, and that we don't yet have a programming interface to allow a non-coder-type to express what they expect in a way that it can be ingrained into the HW, we won't get to Scott's dream. (Right now, at the high-end, you hire someone by the hour to code it, and then keep coming back until you're happy)

Just my $.02
Oct 27, 2012
I just want to be able to walk into any room in my apartment and say "Lights: on" or "Lights: 30%" or "TV: off". I suspect there's an app for my phone which could probably handle all this, but then I'd need all kinds of additional devices hooked up to all my electronics.

And, after buying it all, within 5 years none of it will work because the phone changed, the app changed, or the hardware standards are different.

I've seen the wifi-enabled electric outlets - that's a step forward. Once those become standard in every fitting, and "just work" without configuration, we could be onto something. Of course, when that happens, hackers will figure out how to drive us crazy by switching the lights on and off all the time and switching channels on the TV.
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