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.