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Naming of Mayflower 2 as the world's first autonomous ship as it prepares to set sail from Plymouth. Picture: Wayne Perry

Better to be clever than smart

ALMOST daily we are urged to place our trust in rapidly advancing new technology. The catch-cry is “Get Smart”.  It is almost biblical in its unwavering insistence.

Accept and ye shall be saved. Adapt to everything smart and ye shall enter the Elysian uplands where all the gizmos and contraptions that surround us will cease to cause the unending irritation, time-wasting, stress and anger that we inexplicably accept as normal.

From smart meters unable to communicate, through smart phones dependent on unreliable networks to death-trap smart motorways this smart new age is anything but.

Had it not been recently condemned as a “bad” word, I would have said they are more dumb than smart.

Thicker than …. (you fill it in), as useless as …. (ditto), as unreliable as …. (and so it goes on).

The belief that their creators and promoters have in these fanciful dream world devices is beyond belief. Like messianic cult leaders who persuade their followers to take a path to inevitable doom.

How could anyone think “smart” lanes on motorways are a good idea? Certainly not the families of those killed and maimed as a result of using them.

Even worse are the “smart” bombs incapable of sorting justifiable (a dubious concept) targets from the innocent non-combatants they inevitably include in their kill count.

At the domestic level, thousands of  misled users of gas and electricity are in endless battle with utilities over false readings and error-strewn accounts.

Smart phones are such a contradiction in terms that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, as tends to happen with the best farces.  When does the smart bit kick in when there is no signal for miles around?

And what is so beneficial about having a metal object that listens for instructions – many of which it gets so laughably wrong – rather than simply stirring yourself into doing the deed yourself.

“Alexa, switch off the light,” the gadget is told. Oh for the day when “she” replies, “Get up from the table, take two steps and do yourself, you lazy slob.”

Convenient? For what; boosting obesity, fostering inertia in an already grossly inactive society?

It’s far more alarming than that.

Latest research from the usually reliable Which? states families placing their faith in “smart” devices are at risk of more than 12,000 hacking or scamming attacks every week.

It fitted out a fake home with numerous commonly used devices, widely available from major retailers and online shopping outlets.

At one stage, it recorded 12,807 scams and security attacks in just one week. Being targeted were smart TVs, household alarms, printers, cameras and numerous other “smart” devices.

A security camera was not only hacked but was used to spy on its users.

Last month saw the launch of a “ship” minus captain and crew. It was supposed to cross the Atlantic guided only by AI (artificial intelligence) – another laughable contradiction in terms – in commemoration of the crossing of the Mayflower 400 years earlier.

That brave venture was successfully achieved under human hands. This 21st century would-be repeat had no such help. Within days it had been brought back into port before it became another Mary Celeste.

Already we have crew-less drones creating danger in the skies and driverless cars threatening to add to the carnage on our motorways.  To have  crew-less ships sailing in already hazardous sea lanes would be to heap risk upon risk.

But that’s progress, as we will undoubtedly be assured.

If only there wasn’t so much evidence to the contrary; that “smart” no longer carries the meaning it so long conveyed.

Perhaps a binge session of one of television’s most popular comedies of the 1960s is called for.

Get Smart  was built around the bumbling ineptitude of special agent  Maxwell Smart and his danger-fraught inability to cope with the gadgetry of his job, including the infamous shoe phone.

Back then, it was thought hilarious . . .


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