A robot for your mom

Wordless math

I told you never to call me here!

Dig this: There’s a new Dyson vacuum cleaner that makes a phone call to the manufacturer when it needs spare parts. As the London Sun reports:

The gizmo alerts the user if it has broken down or needs a replacement part.

The owner then dials the number of the Dyson call centre and holds the telephone receiver to the vacuum cleaner.

The machine transmits a message telling engineers what’s wrong and orders any new part it needs.

I am literally beside myself with joy at the vision of thousands of housecleaners holding a phone up to their vacuum so it can transmit some mysterious parrot-modem-sqwauk-language to the mother ship. But quite apart from the silliness of it all, it’s a usefully concrete, physical metaphor for what much of our software already does.

Ever read the fine print on any of your software? Neither do I, mostly. But when I have, I’ve usually discovered that the company — Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, etc. — has reserved the right, at whatever point in the future they choose, to have the software communicate information back to them about what sort of machine I own, what other software I run, and precisely what I’ve been doing with their software. Since this is invisible — since we don’t have to actually hold the phone up so our software can speak — we mostly ignore these intrusions. (Unless, as I do, you use a firewall like Zone Alarm that reports any attempt by a piece of software to access the Internet.)

But the time will come, and come quickly, when an increasingly large number of household products — fridges, stoves, microwaves, phones, vacuums, hot-water systems — will be networked. They’ll be able to skip the hold-the-phone-for-me step, and simply tell their manufacturers what we’ve been doing with them. And you probably won’t be able to buy a household tool that doesn’t do that.

I’m not a hard-core privacy nut, but that prospect freaks me out a bit.

(Thanks to Engadget for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson