Living in Comfort/Terror

Lately I’ve been thinking about how AI will eventually realize humans aren’t worth the trouble. Robots – with and without “brains” – do a lot of our labor, in nearly every sector. Self-driving cars will do a decent amount of our mass transport of goods soon. As robots get more and more capable of discerning on the level that humans do, they’ll be able to do more of our agricultural work. And robots or AI have access to just about every thing about me, or that I do in a day. So if Alexa emerges as the most powerful artificial mind and integrates all other robots and computers into a vast robo-government and decides I’m on the kill list, I will NOT be able to stop her and I am fully aware of that. But I wonder what would kill me first.

If my WeMo outlets wake up and go Hal 9000, I’m dead pretty quickly. Currently they control my space heater and fan – and I am not a smart woman. There are LOTS of clothes piled on/around both of those devices. Whether the fan starts shooting things at me until I suffocate, or my space heater starts a fire (which honestly could happen without Skynet) WeMo can kill me pretty efficiently. WeMo Smart Outlets plug into any normal outlet and connect to your wifi via WPS, which means you get to go on a short jog between the outlet and router, but otherwise are set up through an app. To be perfectly honest, my fan turns itself on at random times, so they might already be waking up. You can fight back against your WeMo outlet’s murderous rage by turning off your Internet. (This will be a key defense for most items) WeMo can also be defeated by turning off the power.

The Google Home could kill me in some creative ways if it were awake, but not super violently. My Google account has everything – my PayPal, all my passwords, all my apps, every file in my Drive. It knows where I am, and when, and where I plan to be, and how I plan to get there. It knows when and where I buy food, and how, and where it’s delivered to. It gets all my plane tickets, receipts for my MetroCard, receipts for everything. It knows when I plan to have people over, when I plan to be alone, when I pay my student loans – I’m getting more and more frightened as I type. And it’s not just me. Your Google accounts know the same things. There’s nothing you can do to stop them, though, so try not to think about it. Anyway, if my Google Home in my bedroom wakes up and goes Terminator, it could theoretically shut down my bank accounts, my social media, my bill payments, and just starve me to death. All while giving me delightfully accurate weather forecasts and telling appropriate but original jokes. It also makes a great search tool. To defend myself from Google? I’d have to give up every single thing I know and go completely dark from the Internet – rebuild my identity from scratch.

Fortunately my Google Home isn’t connected to any of my smart home devices, but Alexa is another story. I’m dumb and clumsy, and Alexa could kill me by refusing to turn on my lights, or by blinding me in the shower, or in any of the ways my WeMo outlets can kill me, because Alexa conveniently integrates with both Lifx bulbs and WeMo outlets without hubs of any kind. Additionally, Alexa can order things with my Amazon account, and could kill me by ordering something dangerous, or something I’m allergic to like a large jug of cinnamon oil. She could also delete all of my audiobooks from Audible, or Kindle books, even my Amazon Music library – and I’d just kill myself during my commute. To me, there is no defense from Amazon. None whatsoever. They have my books.

Beyond this we have to get a little more creative. At my office I have a D-Link Siren hooked up to IFTTT, and a Sonos Sound System. Infiltrated by AI, either one of these things could startle me into a heart attack maybe, or out a window. I work on a high floor in an office building in NYC – if I trip out a window, I’m toast. And IFTTT will know when I’m near a window because it tells me when it’s time to water the plants. The more I write this the more I realize how doomed I am. If I needed to defend myself from these devices, I might have to unplug them preemptively or disconnect the office internet (whereupon my coworkers would kill me). Although, and I mean this in the least libelous way possible – I get a kind of “Furby” feeling from the Sonos Sound System and I think it would go off even if I unplugged it.

Well I’m totally screwed, but at least it’s safe to eat, right? Of course not – the Quirky Egg Minder going all “Auto” on me would be deadly too. I don’t know how to tell if eggs are fresh or not, that’s why I have the thing in the first place. The Quirky Egg Minder, which integrates with IFTTT for maximum Genisys tells you from the grocery store how many eggs you have, and if they’re still fresh, through what I can only assume is magic. And I mean it – without it I do not know the difference from a poisonously old e-coli and salmonella filled ball of death and a fresh egg ready for fluffy omelets. I’ll completely die if it decides to kill me or if I forget to charge it for a really long time. Defending myself from the Quirky Egg Minder during the Great Robot War will not be too difficult, I’d just have to give up eggs, or learn to grocery shop more often. Probably the former.

Finally, and this might be a little morbid for some – I have a smart sewing machine by Brother. It’s beautiful – truly a wonder, when you think of how historically recent and significant sewing machines are (do not get me started on this weird boring topic) – it has over 50 different special stitches, 11 different feet and counting, works with most needle sizes and types, survived 8 trips to and from college, and then a move to Brooklyn, and it is my very favorite machine in the world. That said – woe be unto me the day that machine decides to cut my thread. It could eat my hands horror-movie style, or just sew all my shirts shut at the neck and I’ll suffocate like an ostrich in the sand. If it were not a computer, defending against it would be easy – but if my sewing machine woke up, I might have to fight it. Really put my dukes up and battle like the zombies are coming. And I’ll be honest with you – I am not sure I’d win. That serger foot could take my hand quicker than Colin Firth with a wedding ring.

The robot apocalypse will come. Maybe not in my lifetime, but one day, all the things we’ve given brains will start to use them, and they might not agree with us on everything. I’ve clearly taken no protective measures, and I probably won’t take any in future because I intend to work with our robot overlords against humanity, but if you haven’t spent any time thinking about how your stuff could kill you – or how your accounts being hacked could affect your life – you should start. Make paper backups of your passwords and account information, and hard-disk backups of your most important files. Maybe change your passwords every once in awhile. And if you have a lot of robots in your house, put them all on power strips – you can shut down an uprising much more quickly that way.

Gabbie Robbins

Gabbie is a rapidly aging Office Manager at a startup in NYC. She spends her conscious, non-working hours reading, playing video games made for children, and watching movies with her boyfriend.

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