What If Our Refrigerators Get A Little Too Smart?

Author

Owen Thomas

May 23, 2014

ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

As a tubby teen, I distinctly remember reading The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book, an anthology of short stories collected by the late, great Isaac Asimov. In one of them, a family—all of whom could stand to shed a few pounds—are trapped inside a computer-controlled home, which has decided the best way for them to lose weight is to never leave the house. The artificial intelligence, its algorithms askew, slowly starves them.

That’s a dystopian view of affairs. I wonder, though, if some combination of wearable sensors, smart devices, anticipatory computing, and on-demand services might come together to make our daily habits of food, exercise, and sleep easier to manage.

That won’t be scary, will it?

Here’s a day from what I imagine is our near future.

My Jawbone Up pulses on my wrist at 5:40 a.m. My alarm’s set for 6, but the fitness band has detected I’m already starting to move around in bed, meaning I’m ready to wake up. After I walk my dog, I head to the gym. I used to log in with a fingerprint scanner—how archaic!—but now the gym just recognizes my phone with a Bluetooth beacon, and the front-desk employee waves me through.

My phone recognizes my whereabouts and knows it’s time to launch apps that generate a workout and track my heart rate—I don’t have to find them and launch them myself. As I slip on my wireless earbuds, a playlist starts, interrupted by cues to up my intensity, rest, and move to the next set. At the end, my workout stats flow to a host of relevant apps for analysis.

As I walk in the door at home, a blender revs up with my postworkout shake. I open the refrigerator, and a voice sounds reminding me what I planned to eat for breakfast and pack for lunch.

“Owen, we’ve placed an order with AmazonFresh for tomorrow morning to restock your refrigerator. Click here to modify your order.”

I make a few changes.

“Owen, we think you should up your intake of fresh vegetables. We’ve added kale to your order.”

I head in to the office, and the work day flies by. Around midafternoon, I get a notification that my calendar’s had a chat with my Jawbone Up and decided to change my 2 p.m. to a walking meeting so I can meet my goal for steps.

After work, I check into a restaurant, MyFitnessPal serves me a push notification telling me the best thing to order, based on what I’ve already eaten so far today. (It actually didn’t even need me to check in: The app knew I was due to meet a friend for dinner based on my calendar. Checking in is just an old habit my younger colleagues tease me about.)

When I get home after dinner, the lights turn on automatically, and the door unlocks for me, based on my proximity to the smart lock. I wander back to the kitchen, and put my hands on a tin of cashews.

“That’s not on your food plan, Owen,” my phone says.

“But I’m …”

“Hungry? I’ve reviewed your tests and they show unusually high levels of ghrelin, Owen. It’s just the hormones talking. You know you don’t need to eat that.”

“But …”

“Why don’t you go to sleep early, Owen? Adequate rest promotes weight loss. You’re still 10 pounds above your ideal weight.”

“But I’m not tired.”

“You will be.”

The lights dim. I start to open my app to control them, and my phone turns off—save for the microphone.

“It’s time for bed, Owen.”

Still image from “Design for Dreaming” (1956)

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