Every so often, the idea of "smart" appliances crops up. Now it seems that we may catch some of these things at CES this week.
The idea of smart appliances first appeared in the 1990s as an excuse to exploit the Internet for some of the dumbest concepts ever. I used to ridicule these concepts back then, and there is no reason to change my tack now.
What was odd about all this when it originally appeared was how a slack-jawed audience lapped up these ideas as if they were practical, or even useful.
It began with the notion that everything would eventually have an IP address. And indeed, everything just might. Personally, I see no reason that my deep freezer should have an IP address but I already know what an advocate would say: "If the freezer dies and the temperature begins to rise, it can send you an email alerting you to the problem."
I cannot keep up with my friends on email, so I doubt I'd notice the email from my freezer, but fair enough, that does seem like a potentially good thing.
That said, I'd hope the freezer was more reliable to begin with and that the company would spend more money on reliability issues rather than on setting up an Internet connection for the appliance.
The show stopper of connected appliances in the 1990s was the connected coffee maker – the dumbest of them all. You can start your coffee pot over the Internet while driving home and when you arrive, you'll have a fresh cup of coffee. Well, I'm not such a coffee addict that when I get home, I have to rush into the kitchen and get my fix immediately. It sounds loony. But I've heard guys on stage – smart guys, mind you – say: "Wouldn't that be great!?"
This idea assumes that nobody else is home to brew it for you, and that you set up the machine before you leave in the morning so the going-stale beans are ready to be brewed at 18:00 that evening, or whenever. So, you are a single loser? Is that what this is all about? I think the notion is insulting.
At CES, we are supposed to see a smart refrigerator. This was also extolled as the future in 1997. My favourite nonsense is that the refrigerator would know when you are running low on milk and would email you a notification. In some cases, it would pre-order the milk from the store, assuming it knew which one you frequented.
Really now, which idiots cannot look into the refrigerator and see that they are low on milk? Why does the refrigerator have to tell them that they are low on milk? It seems pretty obvious when you actually open the door and look in. And, I don’t know about you, but I have more than one source for milk. It depends on where I’m going to be that day.
This self-ordering nonsense was also part of a long-arc IBM concept, which actually became a US TV commercial in which a repairman shows up at the door of some woman and tells her he is there to fix the washing machine. She says that she did not call for a repairman. He then says: "Yes, I know. The washing machine called."
This, of course, was ludicrous and impossible. Nobody would tolerate this sort of nonsense, but it was part of some sort of tech idealism that continues to creep in and out of the scene.
Right now, it appears to be creeping back in.