How Artificial Stupidity Is Ruining Our Lives

Evil contraption. A wood-burning stove is looking really good right now.

by James A. Bacon

Periodically, Bacon’s Rebellion asks whether the increasing complexity of society is out of control. Personally, I don’t worry much about Artificial Intelligence wiping out our jobs or taking control of humanity because so much putative “intelligence” of the artificial variety is incredibly stupid.

Case in point: my microwave oven.

Just as my elderly parents wanted a cell phone that just made phone calls, I want a microwave oven that just re-heats food. All I ask is for the machine to respond to few simple commands. Instead, I have a digital monster connected to the Internet that promises a dazzling display of versatility but is, in fact, functionally useless.

When we first installed our Whirlpool about a year ago, it had a digital interface that took way more effort to understand than I wanted to devote to the task. When I buy an appliance, I’m really not interested in taking an hour-long tutorial on how it works, I want it to be simple and intuitive. But at least I could readily access the digital buttons that allowed me to re-heat food. Then, one day, our microwave spontaneously updated its user interface through, I presume, its Wi-Fi connection. Now our little digital pad offers quickie tutorials on how to do all manner of things we don’t want our microwave to do but does not allow us to get out of tutorial hell. We can stand and watch what the controls allegedly can do — we just cannot access the actual controls.

We’ve tried pressing every combination of buttons there is to push. We’ve unplugged the contraption and let it re-boot. We’ve consulted YouTube for instructions. We’ve accessed online chat only to bang into pay walls of various kinds. Our misery and frustration has become a potential revenue generator for Whirlpool and a host of intermediaries.

The new interface on our microwave tells us that we can hook it up to Amazon Echo and control it via voice commands to Alexa. I don’t want to control my microwave via voice commands — I just want to use my index finger! I don’t want to access my microwave, via Echo, on my smart phone while driving home from work! I work at home — if I want to heat something, I’m about 10 steps away from the microwave!!

Whirlpool has spent good money adding useless, zero-value-added capabilities to my microwave that I don’t want, and I don’t want to take the time to learn how to use. Artificial Stupidity (AS) has rendered my appliance unusable!

I’m willing to invest time learning how to use my PC, learning how to operate my blogging software, and learning how to use a tiny fraction of the capabilities in my smart phone. But frankly, I’m not willing to spend time learning how to use my microwave, my oven, my washing machine, my dishwasher, my drier, my refrigerator and my toaster, each with its own unique interface. AS applied to my home appliances adds not one whit to my personal productivity or quality of life — it’s doing  the opposite. Whirlpool, do you want to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace? Ditch the digital!

Bacon’s bottom line: Rather than eliminate jobs, AS is creating new openings for people dealing with customer complaints and fixing what hadn’t been broken before. This is not the future I had envisioned.

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17 responses to “How Artificial Stupidity Is Ruining Our Lives”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Alexa, dig up dirt on Democrats!

    1. thepolichick Avatar


      All the chicks I know say, “Alexa, vacuum the house!”

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “Periodically, Bacon’s Rebellion asks whether the increasing complexity of society is out of control. Personally, I don’t worry much about Artificial Intelligence wiping out our jobs or taking control of humanity because so much putative “intelligence” of the artificial variety is incredibly stupid.”

    Incredibly WRONG on both counts. You better start worry big time, because artificial intelligence is enormously powerful and awesomely competent in a rapidly growing number of ways. A growing number of experts believe Google now possesses the power to flip the election to the candidate of its choice, with few knowing it. That’s only tip of iceberg as to how and who in our high tech industry can corrupt our elections to suit their choices in ways main stream media can only dream of and wish for.

    1. thepolichick Avatar

      Artificial intelligence is, in fact, awe-inspiring. Too bad the long arc of the phenomenon is posited as if it exists free from energy inputs.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      The term “artificial intelligence” is too broad and vague to use effectively. However, the trend of computerized automation and intelligence should scare the bejesus out of everybody. Yesterday, Houthi rebels in Yemen used drones to knock half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production capability offline. Yemeni rebels using drones that seem to have worked near perfectly? Yes, the drones were almost certainly supplied by Iran but even Iranians building drones that can penetrate sophisticated air defense systems and wreak havoc inside a sovereign nation. Who would have guessed that would be true 10 years ago?

      FBI Director Christopher Wray in October warned a Senate committee that civilian drones pose a “steadily escalating threat.” The devices are likely to be used by terrorists, criminal groups or drug cartels to carry out attacks in the U.S., he said.

      Every day more jobs are vanishing due to computerized automation and intelligence. Rural high bandwidth internet to support call centers? There won’t be any call centers (staffed with humans) by the time the network is built.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Jim, I feel the same way you do. I recently looked into converting my cable program to a more basic list. The “basic” list contains over 150 channels, 95-98% of which I have no interest in. I am glad to hear about the digital microwave. Maybe I will go out and buy a back-up old fashioned microwave while they are still available.

  4. X 1,0000 raised several powers and AMEN brother..
    And it’s not just hardware….
    Oh how I yearn to go back to my Quicken ver.2 for Windows circa 1992 that fit on a 3.5″ 1.4meg floppy… It was oh so easy… and simple,,, now it opens up to some screen and can’t figure out how to change,,, just wastes my time and eats up memory… and that oh so helpful auto fill auto change that leads to errors in every post unless you check twice…
    Plus I like learning from actual manuals, not on line stuff you can’t flip through. ..
    Did I mention cost,,,,a friend of mine had a proprietary 3 wire communicating thermostat on her heat pump… it died,,, $400… yes 400 bucks (did I mention it was proprietary, only one monopolistic supplier – thank you Peninsula Heating and Air) for what should be a simple $40 buck mechanical device… Really I’m going to check on house temp while I’m traveling in Europe… hell I’m turning the air off and save some money…. and don’t forget, Alexander (that’s alexa, looks like that spell checker is trying to help!!) and company are reporting your sex habits and everything else it can find out about you back to Mr google and FB..
    WELL I could go on for at least an hour,,, but you nailed this one…

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    There are some things technological that do annoy the heck out of us but we take for granted a lot of other…

    and in terms of Smartphones – ever go to a restaurant or other public place these days? It’s a question of who is NOT staring into a phone.

    People get email on their phones. they text. they navigate with GPS. They bank. They read the news and more including reading BR!

    Cars… have technology out the wazoo from backup cameras, to tire pressure monitors to blind spot sensors… these are all good things and fairly intuitive and user friendly!

    But I agree – microwaves, dishwashers and washing machines, TV/cable remotes, are unnecessarily complicated and frustrating and really do not/should not be “connected”… it’s foolish. When we get a new one – I familiarize myself with the simply mode and that’s what I use from them on!

    but I’d not worry so much about GOOGLE as I would government in general that now has technology like license plate readers, facial recognition, and the ability to get into your online accounts, your cellphone, etc.

    Of course if you’ve done nothing wrong, nothing to worry about, right? 😉

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      We can start with the addiction and enslavement of a nation, and go from there.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      Oh, you should worry about Google. Here’s a thought experiment – try to get Siri to say the word “feminist”. It was programmed to not say that word.

      “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell

      The only thing Orwell got wrong was the date.

  6. thepolichick Avatar

    I will never, NEVER, get “smart appliances.” In fact I’m hoping to renovate my kitchen in the next year and am going in the opposite direction — sourcing vintage appliances for the design kitsch appeal as well as the “dumb” factor. On efficiency, however, there are issues. Maybe a need to retrofit to make things more energy efficient will be necessary.

    When our microwave and dishwasher died this was precisely why we didn’t replace. I don’t need Alexa, Siri, or “anyone” else to “assist me” in everyday life. “Smart appliances” are the equivalent of plastic straws where, in a few generations we’ve lost the ability to lift a cup to our lips. Same goes for handwashing in public areas — it’s far too big a strain to turn a faucet on or flush a toilet, let “sensors” do it.

    Yet somehow humanity managed to do all these things for millenia without computer-assistance. And don’t talk to me about disease or life-spans because the real facts defy the myths, and anyway, we can combat that today

    We’re just lazy energy guzzlers who get all Buck Rogers whiz-bang over any invention without bothering to consider its energy equations or paradigmatic implications for society. #epicfail again and again.

    Where did you go American strength, fortitude, and ingenuity? Where did you go?

  7. J. Abbate Avatar

    Are we blaming Artificial Intelligence for the short comings of Human Intelligence? My refrigerator is not likely to shoot me. AI is not anti-science, in fact it is an expression of excellent science. But there are those using their human intelligence in lethal , anti-scientific and somewhat irrational, and dangerous ways. An argument could be made that Alexa could possibly run the country in a more consistent, fair, and less dangerous and egotistic manner than the current resident of the White House. Who would you trust more…a well-programmed AI system or a proven con-artist who cannot resist changing facts to match a faulty mental and ethical capability?

  8. Echo! Echo!
    I’m dreading the search for a new car that won’t drive me insane with similar inanity.

  9. Re the new car search: just did that, it’s worse than you think. Takes hours of research and many dead ends with a very clunky interface to restore the driver to full, quiet, manual control of a new vehicle supplied with automatic lane control, automatic speed control for distance abatement, talking navigation assist, automatic headlight control, automatic climate control, object proximity alarms, backup alarms, child lock alarms, speed limit alarms, economy mode available alarms, search for gas now alarms . . . . every one arguably a convenience but collectively dehumanizing.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Can’t you tell the salesman at the dealership that you won’t buy the car unless they turn all that crap off?

  10. HB Atkinson Avatar
    HB Atkinson

    Have y’all tried to actually work on one of these cars with all the “AS” built into them? Ridiculous!

  11. I have to confess: Acbar found a video with the answer to my problem and emailed it to me. Once I knew what to do, it took me about 30 seconds to fix the problem. Thanks Abcar!

    But there’s still something wrong with a system that makes it so bloody difficult.

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