Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Apps with attitude poised to take over the world

With the announcement of a mobile app that can help park your car, what other tasks will people give up trying to master in favor of allowing a machine to take control?

By Victoria Coren Mitchell  /  The Guardian, LONDON

Illustration: Mountain People

So, it is here. The latest hot invention (announced via the newspapers, in a breathless spirit of “New year, new ways of life”) is an app that parks your car for you.

Electronics firm Bosch has devised the system, which will be available next year. Twelve months from now, apparently, all you will need to see your car slot magically into tiny spaces is a vehicle fitted with the relevant 12 ultrasonic sensors, and an app-enabled phone.

“When the driver wishes to park,” Bosch engineering manager Fred Sejalon said, “they just have to enable the system, and sensors start scanning the environment. If a suitable parking space is found, the driver can either stay in the vehicle or step out and, using their smartphone, let the vehicle do the rest.”

I knew this moment was coming. It is a key yet under-documented stage in the rise of the machines: the Sarcasm Phase. First, they obeyed us. One day, they will control us. In between is the bit where they demonstrate how much better they are at everything. Today, parking. Tomorrow, world government. Oh sure, they make it look “helpful,” but that is just passive-aggression.

I can hear the voice of the app now, like a vexing husband: “Perhaps you’d like to step out of the vehicle, while I do this for you?”

The main reason I never wanted to get married was the fear of a lifetime’s judgemental staring and “kindly advice” when I parked the car. Finally, one day, I met a man who does not have a driving license. We are very happy. If he does not make me feel like an idiot at the wheel, I’m damned if my mobile phone is going to.

You can see what they are doing, these machines, can’t you? They are breaking down our confidence in stages. Reverse-parking in a small space is one of those high-pressure situations where a critical watching eye becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Knowing that your mobile phone can park better than you, you would never dare to try it again. It would be like trying to sing in front of Pavarotti.

No doubt the machines, watching us constantly like electro-hawks, will soon identify other situations where we are sensitive to criticism. We will download endless apps that we think might be “helpful,” but are actually clever moves in a psychological war. Five more years and, our self-esteem fully destroyed, we will be ready to hand all power to the robots.

COOKING APP

This electronic device can prepare a full meal for you from scratch. However, by all means, do continue to make your own. Chop, dice, mix, stir and bake as normal. When your meal is prepared, the app will taste it for you, then make a face and add salt.

INSTA-VALET

Not sure what to wear? With the simultaneous ability to scan your wardrobe and measure the surrounding air temperature, your mobile phone will suggest an appropriate outfit. Its suggestion will come in the form of a photograph of what you would look like in the outfit if you had not gained all that weight.

PARENTAL PHONE APP

An addendum to the existing “contacts” facility in your phone, this app will — whenever you dial the number of one of your parents — provide an immediate calculation of the days, hours, minutes and seconds since you last input those digits, then bleep the words: “Would you like me to phone for you? Since you seem to be so busy...”

UP-DATE

As its name suggests, this is a high-tech upgrade to Internet dating. Like Tinder and Grindr, your phone will survey the local area for fellow singletons, then save time by providing the reasons why they would not be interested in you.

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