Qualcomm Asks: Why Wait For A Cold Humanless Future?
Walking through Union Station in Washington D.C. this morning, I came across an advertisement, slapped over an old brick wall, promoting the information technology company Qualcomm.
My attention was caught by the advertisement’s silly question: “When will what’s next become what’s now?” asked the Qualcomm ad. “Why wait?” Of course, what’s next and what’s now never really meet. As soon as what’s next becomes what’s now, companies like Qualcomm become dissatisfied with it, looking for the new what’s next.
The second question was what gave me pause. Why wait? I took a closer look at the image accompanying the commercial text.
I now saw that what at first appeared to be a tangle of yarn was actually a simulation of a human brain, composed of nothing but a bunch of twisted electrical wires. I wondered if that was what Qualcomm hopes is next: The replacement of human minds with artificial simulations. The image didn’t make me feel in a hurry to move from now to Qualcomm’s next.
Looking around, I saw that Qualcomm advertisements were all around me. Most of them asked questions that were supposed to be inspiring, but instead struck me as fundamentally creepy. One Qualcomm ad asked, “What will the future you shape look like?”
The image with this advertisement suggested that Qualcomm believes that a future cast in cold blue neon light, showing a collection of inanimate objects connected together would be fantastic. This is the Internet of Things, the tech industry dream of a world in which the world becomes a gigantic device of surveillance and control executed through a global network of machines sending messages back and forth to each other, so that, as the Qualcomm ad shows in abstract form, a television communicates electronically to a house, which communicates to a watch, which is connected to a heart monitor, which sends signals back and forth to a washing machine, which communicates with a car.
This image of the future brought to us by Qualcomm is all very innovativish, until you pause to actually think about what you’re seeing. What benefit could it bring to anyone to have a washing machine communicate electronically to a heart monitor? How would having an Internet-connected washing machine accomplish anything practical for us?
Qualcomm left out just one piece of this picture. Where’s the human being in this future we are supposedly shaping? The human body has become invisible, at most implied as a kind of accessory to the heart monitor. Who dreams of shaping a future like this?
Perhaps Qualcomm is the one doing the dreaming, picturing a fevered fantasy centered around its own ambitions.
I turned around to see the same image of a cold network of devices, only this time accompanied by a different Qualcomm question: “When will our devices learn our habits? Why wait…”
Why wait? A more relevant question would be: Why allow devices to learn our habits? Who would benefit from having machines in a global network constantly gather information about the daily habits of human beings?
Qualcomm provided a possible answer to this question with the image in another one of the advertisements in its Why Wait campaign. This image showed another metaphor for the Internet of Things: The many objects in our world, all connected back to a central hub: The controlling hand piece of an invisible puppet master, able to remotely manipulate the devices on a whim, with just a flick of the wrist.
Who can see these images like this and believe that Qualcomm’s plans for the future should be allowed to go forward without a serious critical examination?
Qualcomm asks what it thinks is a rhetorical question: Why wait?
People need to start providing answers to this question. As it turns out, there are many reasons to wait.