George Jetson lives closer than one would like to think, and the increasing intervention of technology into everyday life may be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.
As a sci-fi junkie growing up - reading just about every science fiction book I could get my hands on at the Carrington Memorial Library and via the mail through several book clubs – I dreamt of the days where things such as robots and flying cars jumped off the pages of books and off television and motion picture screens into our laps.
Robots are designed to help us in our everyday lives, but science fiction authors, particularly those with backgrounds in science fact, warned us of the dangers of placing so much power in the hands – or circuitry of robots and computers.
We’ve all heard of the book turned movie, “I Robot,” the Isaac Asimov compilation of short stories about the future interaction between humans, robots and morality.
Asimov touched on potential pitfalls of robotics as well, with the creation of the Three Laws of Robotics as a template for robotic behavior, including ethical questions regarding the continuing trends toward artificial intelligence.
Looking at gadgets demonstrated at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the future is now.
CES is the world’s gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies, serving as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for 50 years.
It’s a show where electronic innovations from around the world are introduced to the market place, and it attracts pioneering thinkers from near and far.
Some of the gadgets unveiled this year include DFree, a “smart” device consisting of a wearable bladder and ultrasound sensor that tells you when it’s time to “you-know-what.”
For the dedicated joggers among us, there’s a new smart watch device with 4G connectivity that allows a runner to download music and also shares a runner’s location with friends and family for extra safety.
For the domestic engineers among us, there’s a device that connects to a washer/dryer and senses and removes wrinkles for what its creator claims is a “professional dry cleaner result.”
There are such things now as smart motorcycles, with a GPS-connected smartphone that checks the vital functions of a motorcycle and issues alerts when it detects trouble.
Several automakers unveiled smart devices that can detect trouble in a car’s functions and warn the driver of potential danger, and one new system is capable of warning of a potential collision with a pedestrian by use of red lights to warn a pedestrian of an approaching vehicle.
Hyundai has unveiled new autonomous vehicle lighting that is meant to prevent collisions with pedestrians. Like a traffic light, the car can (intelligently) play with its LED lights to warn pedestrians of its next move, and its capable of switching on a red light when a pedestrian is detected – up to 450 feet away – to warn them not to cross a road.
First responders may be aware of the development of a “walking car,” one with four separate legs capable of traversing rugged terrain in emergency situations in which first responders have difficulty in reaching victims of an accident or illness.
Also unveiled is an “air taxi,” a hybrid-electric autonomous vertical takeoff and landing vehicle.
The five-seater uses six tilted ducting fans for propulsion, and it could be flying by the mid 2020s, according to its manufacturer.
For all of these electronic success stories, however, there seems to be a cautionary tale of computers gone rogue, and I can think of an episode from one of the most popular television series as an example.
The Star Trek episode, “The Ultimate Computer,” tells of a revolutionary computer system given total control of the Enterprise, the M-5.
The system oversteps its boundaries during a test run, with its creator revealing that he has imprinted human engrams onto the computer’s circuits.
“The M-5 thinks,” the computer’s creator, Dr. Richard Daystrom, tells Captain Kirk, to which the down-to-earth Dr. Leonard McCoy responds, “That’s begging for trouble.”
The good doctor’s words prove true, with the crew battling to save the Enterprise after M-5 doesn’t release control of the ship.
A full-length feature film, “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” tells of an advanced, computerized American defense system known as Colossus, which in collusion with a similar Russian system called “Guardian,” assumes total control of the world and ends all warfare for the good of mankind, despite their creators’ orders to stop.
Technology is making our world smaller, and it’s designed to make our lives easier and more efficient, but moral and ethical questions remain, as posed to us during the advent of the computer age.
We all should answer to a higher power, not a mass of cold computer circuits, and the message on our television screens in reality shouldn’t be the one directed at viewers at the beginning of the old television program, “The Outer Limits,” saying, “We control your television set.”
That’s begging for trouble.