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TMCNet:  Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, Mark Saal column [Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah :: ]

[January 25, 2014]

Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, Mark Saal column [Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah :: ]

(Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 25--Smart technology. It just keeps getting stupider and stupider.

The latest old-school gadget to have the "smart" label attached to it? Microsoft's new "smart elevator." According to a Bloomberg interview with Peter Lee, head of research for Microsoft, the software giant is developing an elevator that can predict where you want to go and deliver you to the correct floor -- without ever having to push a single button. That's right, gentle readers: One day, the time-consuming drudgery of punching a button on an elevator will be a thing of the past.


I believe I speak for beleaguered high-rise office workers everywhere when I say, "Well, that's certainly a load off." In the interview, Microsoft's Lee explains: "If your environment knows, for example, that it's lunch time, that you had spoken yesterday about having lunch with a colleague on the second floor, and that it notices that you seem to be now leaving your office to go to the elevator, the elevator can be smart enough to take you, without your need to operate anything, to your colleague." Unless, of course, you were hoping to stop off at the sixth floor on the way down -- to pay off a wager with another colleague, who bet the elevator wouldn't be smart enough to know you needed to stop on the sixth floor first.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the boys in R&D came up with that brilliant idea. It probably started with somebody saying, "You know what I hate? Having to push that stupid elevator button." And then half a dozen guys in white lab coats give their foreheads a thwack.

And sorry, but you can't chalk this one up to some middle-aged Luddite columnist complaining about the march of technology with his "Gee, I sure do miss the old days of (typewriters/rotary phones/iron lungs/fill-in-the-blank)" rants. Because when I ran the smart elevator idea past my hip, tech-savvy 23-year-old daughter, her reaction was almost identical to mine: "Reeeeally? Somebody's going to be lazy enough that they don't want to PUSH AN ELEVATOR BUTTON?" Just because you can invent something, doesn't mean you should.

One of my first encounters with "smart" technology came more than a decade ago. Occasionally, I get calls from school teachers, asking me to come and speak to their classes. I don't know, maybe they're thinking if young people see what a career in journalism has done to someone like me, their students will be more likely to become doctors and lawyers.

One fall, I was asked to speak to the combined English classes at a brand new junior high school in Weber County. I arrived at the appointed time, an hour before lunch, and they led me into the darkened cafeteria -- which doubled as an assembly auditorium, with a stage at one end.

The English teachers were quite apologetic. "We're sorry," they said, "but this is a new school, and the lights are operated by computer. They'll come on automatically at lunch time, but we don't know how to turn them on right now." So, for 45 minutes, I spoke in a dimly lit room to a group of future doctors and lawyers. And then, just as my presentation was ending and women in hair nets were warming up trays of fish sticks, the lights in the cafeteria blazed to life.

It happens at sporting events, too. A game goes into overtime, and the arena's "smart" lights -- which are programmed to turn off at a certain time -- suddenly go dark.

Look, I get that software developers are trying to use technology to make our lives better. I really do. But a smart elevator? C'mon, that just seems dumb.

Hey, Microsoft! You really want to create technology that makes our lives better? What say you get cracking on a smart lawn mower? Ooh, or better yet, invent some sort of smart device that can be implanted beneath the skin of employees in a company's information technology department. Then, when you call your IT help desk to report a computer problem -- and they're busy playing "World of Warcraft" or whatever -- if they even so much as utter the silly command "Just re-boot it," the implanted device delivers a powerful, non-lethal electrical shock to the IT worker.

And just to be perfectly clear, the non-lethal part is negotiable.

Or hey, I'll tell you what. How about you come up with a computer operating system that isn't Windows 8? That would be smart.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.

___ (c)2014 the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) Visit the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) at www.standard.net Distributed by MCT Information Services

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