technology taking mystery out of life
The one thing I was happy about on Quebec election night was that the pollsters were completely wrong. Nowadays, I like to see people outwit the predictions.
Everywhere you look, Big Data and technology are making things more predictable — and the unexpected more expected. They’re taking the mystery out of life.
Weather forecasts once seemed like random entertainment, but today’s satellite weather sites are so accurate about approaching showers, you can almost count down the seconds to opening your umbrella.
I’m travelling to Dublin next month and I already know it will be 12 degrees and cloudy Nov. 3, very windy on the 4th, then rainy with a chance of frost the following four days — based on average weather charts the last 20 years.
It’s similarly predictable when we drive our cars and the GPS recommends the fastest route, then announces you will arrive at 5:12 p.m. — and 36 minutes later you do.
Our buses aren’t anywhere near as predictable, but at least there’s now a live iBus app to let us know how late they’ll be.
There are fewer unknowns everywhere. In olden days, you never knew when friends might surprise you by knocking on your door, when visiting your area. But that’s more unusual today, when people can use their cellphone first to let you know they’re nearby.
In fact, many will politely text before even surprising you with a phone call.
In today’s digital society, we’re usually one step ahead of the clock. More and more pedestrian lights count down seconds so you know precisely when traffic will halt.
How long before there’s similar tech at the supermarket cash, predicting how many minutes you’ll wait in each lane — based on in-store camera analysis of what’s in every grocery cart? ATTENTION SHOPPERS: Aisle 1 wait time: Four minutes, 37 seconds.
Aisle 2: Two minutes 43 seconds — but possible delay due to elderly man holding sheaf of discount coupons.
There seems to be no end to what we can predict about human behaviour, as computer algorithms analyze our every move and use it to calculate our next one.
My computer’s auto-correct function already predicts what words I’m typing and completes them as if it could reed my brian.
But lately, its sophisticated
“predictive typing ” can foresee and complete entire sentences, based on my personal writing style and what I’ve written before — so Quebec’s winter festival is a Mount Royal of messy pothole smoked meat.
Oops, sorry, I’ve just turned that function off.
Humans have always tried to predict their own and other peoples’ behaviour — that’s how we navigate our way through relationships, work and daily life. But as computer calculations make everything more predictable there may be fewer and fewer surprises.
All new fridges will soon come with sensors that predict when we’ll run out of butter or eggs — based on our daily consumption patterns — then re-order them online. The phrase “Geez, honey — we’re out of milk!” may quickly become ancient history.
The recent book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century predicts that tiny medical “bio-sensors” will eventually monitor our entire bodies, to anticipate unexpected problems in advance. They’ll alert you before you realize you’ve contracted a cold, or got pregnant — or understood you’ll have Alzheimer’s in 15 years.
Meanwhile, self-driving cars will whisk you back from work without asking your destination, because they’ll know your driving patterns. They’ll even incorporate extra stops they predict you’ll make.
You: Hey Car! Why’d you choose this route — isn’t it out of the way?
Car: It’s Thursday Josh, so I’m taking St-Viateur home so you can stop at the bagel shop like most weeks, then get lox at the fish shop on St-Urbain, where I’ve already reserved your usual 350 grams. With both stops and your average wait-time in the bagel line, your estimated arrival time will be 6:57 p.m.
Some things will always be unforeseen. We can never entirely predict nature, which is partly why we’re fascinated and horrified by earthquakes, tsunamis and American hurricanes.
We can’t predict lottery winners, or how our children will turn out, or Donald Trump’s behaviour.
The most unpredictable thing in Montreal is construction traffic, where one street has just closed when you’re driving somewhere, while the one you take instead is closed on the way back — flummoxing even your GPS.
I’m hoping city hall will create an app to tell us what’s going on when — but first they’ll have to figure that out themselves. Otherwise I predict their app will sound like this:
“Côte-St-Luc Rd West now closed for construction — use StAntoine West instead. UPDATE … St-Antoine now reported closed … use Sherbrooke West instead.
… CORRECTION!: Sherbrooke West reported closed … Use … use ... use …
This information is currently not available. Please check back tomorrow.”
But who am I to read the future? For now, all I can I predict with certainty is that in six more words, this column will end.
Hundreds of fans funnel hot air from computer servers into a cooling unit to be recirculated at a Google data centre in Oklahoma. Everywhere you look, Big Data and technology are making things more predictable, Josh Freed writes.