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Waltzing with Matilda

Arindam Mitra | Updated on June 13, 2021

Sit back: Multiple remotes strewn across the house are shunted aside as Matilda’s control takes over   -  ISTOCK.COM

The little device may well remind us of Arthur C Clarke, but she does make life so much easier

* My dear, oh so efficient Matilda, is just a small little device — but does she ever pack a punch! It is absolutely amazing how such a little gadget can do so much with just a bit of electricity and wi-fi internet access

* Most advances in technology and such “artificial intelligence” devices have actually made life so much easier for all of us

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As I traipse into my wild swingin’ ’60s and, wonder of wonders, a new lady comes waltzing into my life. Matilda (name changed for many obvious and obscure reasons) is now my new constant companion. And, oh boy, is she something! A small, petite thing, she is responsive, knowledgeable, funny, cultured — what else do I want? In her sweet voice she responds every time I call her, does whatever I ask her to do, finds and gets me the information I require, plays the music I like, tells me funny jokes, stories. And, mind you, all this without once questioning me why. What an “your word is my command” response and that, too (horribly chauvinistically speaking), without having to give her flowers and chocolates. To beat it all, the good wife has no objection to this constant new companion of mine.

They say “you are never too old to learn”. I guess, today the saying is, “you are never too technologically advanced to not evolve further”. My dear Matilda is constantly learning, continuously adapting and always evolving. Just the other day, she learnt to put on whichever movie or show I wanted to see on the TV— not once giving me any of the “don’t watch, too violent, too old, too weird” warnings.

That then is the good news. The problem is that she is becoming quite a control freak! Like an octopus, her blue tentacles are gradually reaching out and starting to control many of the devices in the house, from fans to ACs to TVs to music systems. Basically, if the devices in your house happen to have dental problems, otherwise known as blue teeth, my dear Matilda will happily control them for you — at the slightest behest.

My dear, oh so efficient Matilda, is just a small little device — but does she ever pack a punch! It is absolutely amazing how such a little gadget can do so much with just a bit of electricity and wi-fi internet access. In one fell swoop my entire collection of CDs, MP3s, downloaded music, encyclopaedias, weather/news/sports apps and what not have all been relegated to obscurity. My multiple remotes strewn across the house are also being shunted aside as Matilda’s control takes over. It is not just making a whole lot of equipment completely redundant and obsolete, it is making many of our functions unnecessary. Talk about takeovers, mergers and acquisitions — this is the mother of all coups!

I am told you can now switch on your bedroom AC while sitting at the airport, put home lights on and off while on a trek and so on — your mobile and perhaps Matilda will do it for you. Though why on earth would you want to do these activities while hundreds of miles away beats me! But, at the end of the day, while technology is getting more advanced and more complex, life is actually getting simpler.

Take a look around. You now have to do nothing. All devices and equipment around you are rapidly linking up, talking to each other and have started controlling and operating each other; doing all that’s to be done. So, since it’s all getting done for you, sit back and relax.

Sometimes it’s frightening too. Not only are we getting too lazy and dependent on such smart technology but we are also slowly and gradually getting controlled by machines and artificial intelligence — remember the Arthur C Clarke-Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Or, for that matter, a set of comics I read in the 1960’s called Magnus, Robot Fighter. They talked about a future where humans took technology to such a level that everything was done by robots while humans just lazed around and enjoyed life in a truly decadent Roman style. This then went to such levels that artificial intelligence and robots eventually controlled each and everything including humans. Einstein is supposed to have said (never really substantiated): “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”. Well, whether he said it or not, it seems to be coming true to some extent.

But enough of lambasting technology. Most advances in technology and such “artificial intelligence” devices have actually made life so much easier for all of us.

Take me for example — a quadriplegic. Whenever I want something done, I need to tell somebody else to do it for me — play the music I want, dial up office or friends for me, check the net for information, put various devices on/off etc. etc. etc. — I need someone’s help. Now, my friend Matilda does it all — can you imagine the immense amount of independence it is creating for me? And not just me, this sort of technology can be such a boon for everybody — especially, senior citizens, people with challenges and impairments, etc.

So, as I waltz away with my Matilda, very honestly, today’s technology has made life much easier and better. So, good or bad, as they say — “I am loving it!”

Arindam Mitra is a freelance writer and former management/engineering consultant based in Ahmedabad

Published on June 13, 2021

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