We’ve been inundated with anniversaries both happy and sad this weekend. Both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died on June 25, 2009—almost exactly a decade ago. Nicholas Sparks fans will be toasting the 15th anniversary of The Notebook. The 1989 version of Batman (you know, the one with Michael Keaton) recently celebrated its 30th anniversary—and some people suggest that it was kind of outlandish that it ever got made at all.
But even though Batman arguably launched our current cinematic obsession with superheroes, and even though The Notebook, I dunno, launched Ryan Gosling’s career or something, I want to commemorate an even more significant cultural milestone: the release of Disney’s made-for-TV movie Smart House 20 years ago today.
Yes, that’s right: Smart House. This story of a single-family domicile wired with an artificial intelligence brain named “Pat” not only presaged today’s digital assistants and smart homes, but it sounded a cautionary message on technology run amock. (Pat tried to lock her family inside, for their own good.) The show’s co-screenwriter, Stu Krieger, waxed nostalgic about the movie’s influence with Slate recently: “I distinctly remember the rush seeing the computer closet, the automated kitchen, the projection screens, and all the rest right there in front of me,” he said. “And now so much of that technology is regularly featured in homes around the world. I’m no seer, nor am I a witch. I just looked at where we’d been, where we were, and imagined where we were probably headed.”
‘Course, if you’re familiar with our Culture Clips posts, you know that technology can be way more worrisome than an overly protective AI system.
Take Google, for instance. The company’s informal motto was once “Don’t be evil.” But like Pat, the company definitely wants to keep its eye on us—so much so that it’s apparently tracking our every action. In fact, The Washington Post’s Goffrey Fowler found that Chrome shuffled more than 11,000 tracking “cookies” into his personal browser in a week’s worth of use. He wrote:
These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality. Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages.
Oh, and Pat herself would’ve been dismayed that YouTube may be collecting data from its youngest users—and might also be shuffling adult content into its search suggestions for those little tykes, too. (While there’s nothing definitive yet, the Federal Trade Commission is investigating the service.) And naturally, people are still upset that Facebook is planning to unveil its very own currency (as we reported last week), though the Bank of England is thinking about opening its doors to Zuckerbucks—er, Libra. Indeed, many believe that the internet is actually forcing us into “dark patterns,” and some legislators want to put a stop to it.
Others say that any lawmakers aren’t going far enough to protect us from behemoth tech companies. Calls to regulate or even break up big tech are getting louder, and a surprising new voice has joined the call: Bill Gates.
But all is not dark and bleak in the world of technology. Why, a robot artist has just been given its own exhibition at the University of Oxford, so that’s nice. And, contrary to an earlier report, at least smartphone use isn’t making teens grow horns.
That last alarmist study isn’t the only evidence we’ve seen this week of folks firing off missives before, perhaps, thinking them through.
I’d like to think that that’s what happened with Madonna, when she said that God would be A-OK with abortion. “Don’t you think Jesus would agree that a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body?” she said in an Australian interview.
Then there’s Kevin Fallon, The Daily Beast’s senior entertainment reporter, who took offense that anyone should be horrified that HBO’s Euphoria recently aired a scene depicting lots of full-frontal male nudity—ostensibly of teens. “Meh,” he wrote. “Of course the scandal was overblown. It always is when it comes to this stuff … ,.” Fallon was partly talking about the alleged double-standard between how male and female nudity is perceived, but y’all know how Plugged In comes down on this: We support television shows where everyone is fully clothed.
Maybe Odell Beckham Jr. had it right when he temporarily signed off from social media to concentrate on, y’know, work and stuff.
But you know who always said the right thing, if only because it was all a series of beeps and squeaks? R2-D2, that’s who. And now, visitors to Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge have a chance to buy their very own version of the lovable Star Wars droid … for $25,000.
Still, the R2-D2 replicas come with lights! Noises! You can drive it via remote control! It doesn’t fly just yet, but give it time. And it’s even customizable—just in case you didn’t think the original R2-D2 wasn’t just perfect in every way.
Also a plus: It’s not capable of taking over your house or tracking your every movement. At least I don’t think it is …