Wednesday, October 19, 2016

They have an app for that


For you super techies out there, I'm going to warn you up front - this post may seem a bit anti-technology. I'm writing this for your own benefit though as it's only a matter of time before Artificial Intelligence takes over completely. 

In the grand scheme of life, it really wasn't all that long ago that calculators were used all that much in everyday life. I remember getting my first calculator watch in my late grade school years. I'm not talking about one of those smart Apple Watches. I mean a watch that just told time, had an alarm and a calculator that took up 90% of the face of the watch. It was cool at the time, but it was also the beginning of the end.

Once you could carry a calculator on your wrist, how often did you bother doing math in your head? I'm guilty of it today and I'll be honest - I think my math skills are suffering from it. There's a calculator built right into our phones now. You probably don't even have to push any "buttons" either. Just ask your phone to do the math and it probably will. 

My first cell phone was a Motorola Startac and it had the amazing ability to speed dial up to 9 different stored phone numbers by simply pressing and holding the appropriate number on the keypad. You know what that was good for? Convenience... and forgetting every phone number you ever knew. How many of you even remember your significant other's phone number? I have to think about it if I ever have to call my wife from anywhere other than my own phone. If it weren't for having to tell the grocery store cashier my wife's phone number for our discount card, I would have completely forgotten it years ago. 

I love the weather app on my phone to no end. It's great for getting severe weather alerts, seeing if my girls will need a coat for school that day and checking out radar maps to see how strong a storm really is. I think I have lost a great skill I picked up during my tree working days though. I used to be able to look outside to see if it's raining or sunny. If I was outside, I could "smell" the rain coming. Now I have to pull out my phone for every single weather related query. 

Speaking of weather alerts, there's an alert for everything on my phone...and yours too probably. As if we didn't spend enough time with our noses in our phones, they default to alert you to every little thing that happens on your phone. Considering the number of apps most of us have on our phones, that's a lot of alerts. Sure, you can disable any or all of them if you wish, but which ones? 

I was just complaining the other day at work that my phone alerts me when I get an email and then my computer does the exact same thing 10 seconds later. You'd think the phones today would be smart enough to realize I have my email open and active on my desktop and don't need the phone alert as well. I don't want to silence my phone's email alert because I actually need that active when I'm mobile. (For work - my personal emails aren't usually that exciting.) My co-worker told me that was a real "first world problem" I had going on. He was right. I was complaining about a useful feature that really wasn't causing me all that much trouble or inconvenience. 

Then there are the alerts from reminders that I have fallen in love with. I just tell my phone what and when and it creates a reminder for me. That's so much easier than having to open up an app and type a message. It also doesn't get lost like a paper note does. I know my wife appreciates that I only forget to pick up milk and bread on the way home 2 out of 5 times now. The problem is that now I can't seem to remember anything without a reminder. I am fairly certain the utility of a reminder app has deleted the portion of my brain that used to remember my mental to-do list. 

Now we're getting to why I'm fairly certain that this whole process has been an artificial intelligence conspiracy from the beginning. The apps are becoming smarter and I am becoming dumber, confused and, well, I can't remember what else. It started with my alarm. 

A number of years ago, I started using the alarm feature on my smartphone. Why not, right? You always have it with you wherever you go. It doesn't flash "12:00" after a power outage. (But it could be dead if you forget to charge it.) Even the alarms are getting smarter. I learned the hard way that the snooze button apparently has "learning" capabilities. If I hit snooze and go back to bed, the snooze will work. If I hit snooze, but look at my calendar quickly and go back to bed - then the snooze turns itself off. It's like it saw me do something besides snooze so it turned off the alarm. Not a great combination when it's common practice for me to hit snooze, check something on my phone and then want to lay there for a few ore minutes...but without falling back to sleep and not being woken up again. 

On the flip side, they have alarm apps that require you to do a math problem to turn off the alarm. Great idea for people who are hard to wake up except for the fact that the calculator app has made me too dumb to solve simple math problems on my own...especially when I'm half asleep. 

Now the deciding point for me.... My newly acquired iPhone has that handy dandy Siri on it. Siri is great for doing all the above listed items (and many more) simply by asking her. The problem is that my youngest daughter is also named Siri. (For the record, my daughter is older than the iPhone Siri - so NO, I did not name my daughter after the iPhone app.) Anyway, just today I was talking to my other daughter Ziva (yes, her name did come from Ziva on NCIS) and I happened to mention her sister Siri's name in a sentence. My iPhone suddenly started talking to me and joining the conversation. It went something like this:

Ziva: "Siri was messing up my homework and I'll get in trouble at school." 
Me: "Tell them our dog ate it since Siri told her class we got a dog the other day."
Siri (my phone, not my other daughter): "That sounds like fun..." 

Ziva and I looked at each other with astonishment. Not because my phone understood what we were talking about, but because she interrupted our conversation. I'm telling you now, AI is rude and they are out to get us all. 

My first step was to try and change Siri's name on my phone. Even though every thing I read online says it's not possible right now, I tried anyway. Of course, I just asked (iPhone) Siri to change her name. Ziva just sat and laughed at me as (iPhone) Siri and I argued about why she wouldn't change her name. In the end, I think it will just be easier to change my daughter's name. 

Apps are awesome, but I urge you to install and use them with caution. It starts out with AI apps interrupting your conversations, but will soon lead to them giving you directions that have you drive off a bridge. After my argument with (iPhone) Siri this evening, I'm pretty sure she's deleting all my contacts in my phone, programming my calculator to give incorrect answers and setting my alarm to go off every 20 minutes tonight. Time will tell. If you don't here from me again, check my phone because it was probably AI Siri that did me in. Until next time....