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Your Vapid, Gimmicky High-Tech Future Is Here!


I ordered a book about a week ago and received an email from UPS alerting me that it would be delivered today. I happen to be working at home and noticed in the email that UPS has a new feature: you can “Follow Your Delivery on a Live Map.” Of course I couldn’t resist. There it was, after a bit of searching and a few clicks, my neighborhood with a symbol indicating the progress of the UPS truck as it made its way up our street, finally stopping at our driveway. Turning from the screen to the window I saw the UPS man march up the driveway and deposit the package on the front step.

How fascinating! How clever! And yet…what a total of waste of time. That’s 5-10 minutes I can’t get back, that served no purpose at all. What a gesture of vapid consumerism on my part.

It made me think of a new post up at the Mind Matters site, by our colleague Andrew McDiarmid. Says Andrew, “No Thanks, Google, I’ve Got This!” He reflects on a video advertising Google Assistant and all the borderline-creepy services it can perform for you.

Right now, Google says its digital assistant can perform over a million different actions to make your life easier. And the number is growing every day. But where does it stop? Will it ever stop? Why would it stop? As long as someone deems something a pain point — industry-speak for perceived problems companies want to fix for their customers — it’s possible a machine could be programmed to complete the task. Meanwhile, we get lazier, more entitled, and dumber by the day.

Read the rest here. Google Assistant offers to do things for you that you can and should do for yourself. UPS offers, with its live map, a service you don’t need and that in fact serves only to distract you, turning you into a captivated consumer, someone who cannot wait for his package to be delivered, so much so that he follows the progress of the delivery truck on a “live map.” At least UPS, unlike Google, offers an old-fashioned service (transportation and delivery) and is not surreptitiously mining me for my data, as far as I can tell.

These gimmicks are relatively benign aspects of our AI future. It’s not a future that I much want. Yet I’m equally confident it’s the future that, like it or not, we’re going to get.

Photo: UPS truck (cropped), by Mike Rosenberg, via Flickr.