Technology Oncology Now At Stage Four

Like all the new updates offered constantly for all the machinery of life, it seemed at first like such a good idea: using the technology of “smart” phones to provide an instant, universal warning of impending nuclear attack. What a great idea! A lifesaver, as long as you make several unwarranted assumptions about the size and target of the nuclear strike, and ignore all the questions that arise, such as what do people actually do when they’re been warned, and if you save their lives just so they can crawl out of a shelter onto a radioactive rubble heap, what have you accomplished? Never mind. Great idea.

That’s what Hawaii thought. So they spent a lot of money on a marvelously advanced, dare I say “smart,” system capable of providing instant warning of attack to every cell phone in the state (yes, I know, Hawaii is still on the Republican Party’s list of foreign countries, but trust me on this, it’s a state). Unfortunately, the system, smart as it is, still requires human supervision, someone to receive and evaluate the threat, then activate the alarm. For this purpose a highly trained staff hovers, 24-7.

At every shift change, the people coming on duty check to make sure the machine is on and working. Last Saturday, someone using human intelligence, not the artificial kind, said or thought something like, “Hey, I forget what this button does,” and before the screams of everyone else in room could register, pushed the little bugger. And everyone in Hawaii got a message on their cell phone saying, in effect, Doomsday is at hand, have a nice day.

Okay, I made up those particulars, but they were inspired by real events. That warning of an incoming ICBM went out, with the baleful addendum, “This is not a drill.” People on the streets and beaches ran frantically in all directions at once; sobbing children asked their parents, “are we going to die?” Panic ensued for 38 minutes before the “just kidding” message appeared.

Couple of things. A significant number of “smart” phones in Hawaii did NOT get the warning. Why? Um, something to do with the carriers, mumbled the governor, we’re going to look into that. You might also want to look into that 38-minute thing, governor. Obviously, the people in the room knew instantly that a terrible mistake had been made, and it took them 38 minutes to figure out how to send a correction? That’s not even artificial intelligence.

This pubic-service-by-the-Keystone-Kops routine took place the day after the closing of the massive annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, where the Masters of the Tech World gather every year to demonstrate how much more they can and will screw up our lives. This year, they put on display the following products:

  • A massive, $650 robot clothes folder that requires more time and effort to mount the clothes on the machine for folding than it would have taken to fold the clothes. Oh, and it doesn’t do sweatshirts, socks, underwear, outerwear, towels, etc., etc.
  • A self-propelled luggage cart designed to follow you through the airport on its little Segway wheels like an obedient service dog. As demonstrated at CES 2018, however, it looked more like a drunken donkey, falling on its face every few feet, wandering off by itself and refusing to hurry.
  • A booth hawking companion robots for children and old people had three different robots on display. They were all broken. All they could do for a child or an old person was stare in baleful, accusing silence….
  • Something called an “Amigo Drone” buzzed passers by, offering to  be anyone’s BFF, to go wheresoever thou goest, forever. Really? I’m headed for the airport now…..

“A Better Life, A Better World,”  proclaimed the big banner over the CES 2018 show. You know, like they had in Hawaii before everyone’s hair turned white and they began suffering from PTSD .

There is no doubt now, technology oncology has metastasized. Antidotes are not working. The only thing to do is to administer palliative care and wait for the end.


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14 Responses to Technology Oncology Now At Stage Four

  1. Elaine Codling says:

    Wouldn’t putting it out of its misery be more merciful? A quick death, a respectful period of mourning, and then we could get on with our lives. Just saying.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      You have a good point. Unfortunately, our misplaced “reverence for life” — get more lives, preserve all lives, extend every life — prevents us from getting your point.

  2. Denis Beckmann says:

    Yes Hawaii is a state. But just like Texas it was stolen at gunpoint from the original owners.And the have the audacity to complain at Putins annexation of Crimea where the people are actually real Russians

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Why single out Hawaii and Texas? It was the same with the other 48. Mot sure what your point is — the original owners were not doing any development at all…..

      (irony alert)

      • Leroy stoner says:

        Why don’t we just cry about history and all injustices ever ocuured.
        We should all realize the inevitable.

  3. Rob Rhodes says:

    Or, one might try reading Dimitry Orlov’s “Shrinking the Technosphere”. Meanwhile try ditching every gadget you can before it ditches you.

    Great article, but you are too kind to CES, you didn’t even mention that they lost power for a while.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      Dang, I forgot that! And what great symbology — all this crap that’s supposed to make life better and they can’t keep the lights on.

  4. Denis Frith says:

    All these devices are made of irreplaceable materials, have limited lives, require the supply of electricity and do not naturally reproduce. so this technological revolution is inherently unsustainable.

  5. Russ Day says:

    Tom – great piece. No smart phone here – we do have a humungous stereo that plays records and tapes. About the only electronic gismos we have sre a 16kw solar system that has worked quite well for the past 14 years and a companion hot water solar system that has been with us for about 30 years. The solar system comes with batteries so if the smart phones next door light up with an incoming missle and we’re not destroyed we at least will have lights and warm water. Russ

  6. steve says:

    Unfortunately, technology will drag a number of us down with it. This past week featured news of the new self driving cars with NO STEERING WHEEL. The bizarre search for the utmost in convenience and elimination of physical or mental effort will end badly. We were warned many years ago,

    but still the profit driven tech parade marches on.

    • Ken Barrows says:

      Oh, if it were all profit driven! That’s not important, as long as “investors” think your idea is peachy.

  7. Chris says:

    Hi Tom,

    It is probably a heretical thought, but people can choose not to own or carry a smart phone. I have a mobile phone, but all it does is make calls – and the battery can last up to a week between charges. Anyway, the point is, people can pick and choose what technology they burden their lives with.


    • Tom Lewis says:

      Not really. If you get in a car, travel on an airline, use electricity or eat food, you are entirely at the mercy of software and its latest update. You can run, but it’s pretty damn hard to hide.

  8. SomeoneInAsia says:

    There’s a Chinese idiom: making a cocoon and trapping yourself within. In other words, becoming a victim or prisoner of your own creations. Seems to me an apt description of our attachment to technology today.

    Technology is a Faustian bargain.