Oh, what a wonderful world!

Growing up, I used to watch a lot of two cartoon shows called ‘The Jetsons‘ and ‘The Flintstones’. (Millennials reading — You’ll probably need to Google this; it’s way before your time)

For the uninitiated, The Flintstones was set in the stone age, but the characters face modern conundrums; well as modern as things were in 1960s. On the other hand, The Jetsons was set in, what I can only call a futuristic Utopia world of sorts, where technology and machines, quite literally, had a hand in everything.

The Jetsons had an all-in-one robot called Rosie who was pretty much the lifeline of the family. She did almost everything. Or so I thought. Until I recently caught a few episodes trying to see if my son would enjoy the cartoon. That’s when I realised that even Rosie, the robot maid who was meant to do everything, only did the non-trivial things. That’s because the Jetsons lived in what we today call a smart home. Quite literally a home that took care of all the trivial things at the push of a button. Okay, maybe a few.

Of course, all of this was envisaged to be the norm in the year the Jetsons were set in — 2062 to be precise, I think. We’re in 2017 now, and considering that we are already dreaming about vacations to the moon, I think we’re pretty much on track.

I believe it was Plato who once said that ‘Necessity is the mother of all inventions’. I sort of disagree. I think laziness is. We are forever trying to find ways to do more with less (or no) effort.

And while in India we fondly often call it jugaad, it is the art of invention as its very best. So unless we consider ‘laziness’ as a necessity, I think the quote is probably debatable 🙂

Today, we are busy building gadgets that will help us save time by automating the trivial processes. Gadgets that we call ‘labour-saving’ devices. They exist for the sole purpose of making our lives in this world a little less stress-free. From Artifical Intelligence software like Apple’s Siri with its smart quips to self-driving cars and trains. Why we even have houses that have been printed on a 3D printer. I just hope they don’t decide to 3D print humans to live in it.

Most of us are probably old enough to remember the first TVs in our houses. Ours was a Sony. It had 8 channels. And here’s something for you kids — it had no remote. Yes, no remote. So every time we had to change the channel, we had to walk up to the TV and press a physical button….oh, and each channel had a separate button. And not to mention, turning the volume up or down was another trying affair.

Today you could walk into your living room and the TV would automatically​ switch on, even greet you and maybe even select the channel that you’re thinking about. Okay, spy on you too, if the current US government is to be believed. Although if my TV did that, it would mostly find footage of us arguing about what to watch. Or maybe a lot of instances where we’re searching for the remotes.

In fact, soon we’ll all have robots effectively doing everything for us — from waking us up to even clothing us. I’m totally naming mine JARVIS though! Or maybe I should give it Scarlett Johansson’s voice from HER. Uff, too many choices!

We even have edible printed food these days. Remember how they used to write about pills that could give you an entire day’s energy? Probably not a thing of science fiction anymore. Even with wearable technology getting so popular (apparently it’s risen by 400-odd% in the past 5 years), your doctors (assuming they’re still human!) already know your basic stats before you even check into the hospital or clinic. So we’re getting there. [I know privacy of the data is a concern — but I’ll do another piece on that later]

Just to confess — I am absolutely not against technological advancements that help the world. In fact, I am an early adopter for most gadgets. Or rather, I would be if I had the money. [Which is probably why I don’t — damn vicious circle!] But sometimes I can’t help wonder if all the stuff that we’re inventing to make our lives easier, are also holding us hostage in some way. Like how we desperately hunt for a charger, when the battery indicator on your smartphones automatically activates the low-power mode. Or when the ‘check engine’ light in your car turns on. (Yes, Sheldon Cooper — we saw that!)

Of course, the plus side remains that for all this to happen, humans are still very much in demand. For we possess the power of perseverance and the out-of-the-box thinking ability to program these machines. The world is therefore still our oyster, so to speak. But once the machines learn to evolve and adapt, well, we won’t be left with much to do.

Except maybe sit and get old and die. Or worse, maybe we’ll just die of the boredom from not having to do anything strenuous. Or maybe, we’ll just freeze our bodies and auto-time it to wake up 10 years in the future in a world where perhaps we’re the minions instead of the machines being ours.

Of course, considering that we are still debating women’s rights and equality in 2017, people are dismissing Global Warming as just hocus-pocus, and some are still arguing about our rights to eat what we want — things that should have been sorted a long time back — I guess we’ll still have something to do.

Maybe there will be an app for that.

*jugaad — hack.


Originally published at www.iwrotethose.com on April 5, 2017.