Beware the Machines

According to Wired magazine, The AI Revolution is On. Their words, not mine. My words would be: the AI revolution is happening, now, in my home.

IBM’s Watson has nothing on my appliances. Sure, he answered some Jeopardy! questions, but, dude, I answer Jeopardy! questions all the time.* Sometimes I’m even right. Watson is downright tame compared to my vindictive machines. I have first hand experience with Artificial Intelligence, and I’m here to share my tale. Stick with me. I get long-winded today, but it’s in the name of public service.

If I save just one reader, my time here today will be well spent.

Almost a month ago I had a little breakdown of sorts. I was still functioning, but I wasn’t doing anything very well. Was it my third-life crisis? I’m not sure, but I would actually be pleased to know that it was, because all in all, this breakdown wasn’t so bad. Sure, there was some doubt, some sadness, some general woe-is-me pitiful-ness. And I didn’t write a word for several weeks. In the end, however, it was quick and relatively painless for those around me.

[I should note I am not belittling breakdowns. I believe they are very real, and very serious. I’m only belittling my breakdown, because as real as it was, it wasn’t real serious. I want to state clearly - for the record - that I believe in seeking help, I believe in offering help to those who need it, and I believe a little grace goes a long way. Mental health is no joke, so please don’t assume that I’m being flippant on the subject.]

The reason I am even telling you about my meltdown is because it’s relevant to the AI revolution happening in my home. See, I believe that the machines have ears. And feelings.

In nearly perfect synchronization, as I lost my stuff, so did my laptop. At the same time I was wondering where to go from here, my computer decided he was in a funk, too. I want you to remember this detail while I give you a bit more background; then we’ll return to the computer.

About two years ago I was pregnant with P, and H was just about to turn three. We decided that if there was ever a time to invest in a new washer and dryer, it was then, as our laundry was about to quadruple. There was only one baby in my belly, but each child comes with mountains of laundry. In terms of laundry, we were going from a family of three to a small village.

We ordered a beautiful new set, and because we used my husband’s employee purchase site to do so, we had to wait about a week for it to arrive. I was very careful not to let on to the old machines, who had been faithful to us, that they were being replaced. We sprung the truth on the old washer and dryer as the delivery men wheeled in the new ones.

Here’s where things begin to go horribly awry.

Our new dryer was damaged. It went right back on the truck, and we ordered a replacement. So we installed the new washer, but left the old dryer in place.

One afternoon, the day before the new-new dryer was due to arrive, after getting H settled for his nap, I switched a load of laundry from shiny, new washer to old, crotchety dryer. And mumbled something derogatory about said dryer before going to put up my fat, pregnant feet.

Ten minutes into my couch time, I heard a BANG! that sounded like it might have come from the laundry room. I was pretty sure it had to have come from outside, and my ears were just playing tricks on me, but thought I should go take a look just in case.

I opened my laundry room door to see the smoke monster from LOST snaking out of my dryer.

Remember the derogatory remark? My first thought was “You and your big mouth, Missy. You pissed off the dryer and now look.”

My second thought was, “Fire!”

I called 911 and they said they were sending a truck (they sent three), and told me to get everyone out of the house. I almost asked if I had to get everyone out, because my preschooler was napping – on the other side of the house, far from the fire – and you know how sacred nap time is, right Mr. 911 man?

For those of you dialing CPS, I did wake up H and take him outside. He was confused followed by thrilled when, minutes later, three fire engines arrived; I was kind of thrilled with the firefighters myself.

All three engines worth of men rushed into our home, and a minute later I heard one on the radio saying there was no fire, to clear the alarm. An especially handsome firefighter with salt and pepper hair, and light blue eyes… Wait, where was I? Oh, yes, so the handsome man came to tell me that there was no longer any fire, and no danger of anything bursting into flame again later, but, “I’m afraid your dryer is toast, ma’am. You’re going to have to get a new one.”

“Oh, the new dryer is coming tomorrow,” I said. “And I let that news slip earlier, so I’m sure that’s why this dryer blew up. It’s upset.”

A polite “uh, yes, ma’am” and a hasty retreat followed. A quick truck tour and a firefighter badge-shaped sticker for H, and the trucks were gone. Oh, and nap time was a lost cause, thanks to my big mouth and a testy appliance.

The new dryer came the next day and I assumed our troubles were over. Until later that week when our refrigerator freaked out in a sign of solidarity.

You see, our laundry room is not far from the kitchen. Mark and I stood very near the fridge when we talked about the fire-dryer (as H christened it), and how temperamental it was. We stood very near the fridge when we made disparaging remarks about the old dryer and said how glad we were to see it go.

So the fridge showed us. We woke one morning to discover that the lights inside had stayed on all night. I’ll just stop right here and explain, because everyone who hears this story asks the same thing: How do you know the lights were on if the door was closed? {insert lame x-ray vision joke here}

Our first clue was that everything on the top shelf was warm, while everything on the other shelves seemed fine. Our second clue – and this is some crafty detective work here – came when we manually pushed the little switches that are triggered when the door closes, and nothing happened. Push switch, light still on.

We put two and two together, and called the repair people. The repairman actually came the same day, and in between trying to sell me water filters, he concluded that the problem was with the fridge’s computer …and we’ll have to order that part, ma’am, because we just can’t keep those on the truck. And it’ll take a week or so to get here.

In the mean time, we came up with a really technical fix: we removed the light bulbs. It was dark in there for a week, but our yogurt wasn’t curdled. All was well. Except for one teensy detail: it was now painfully clear our refrigerator had it out for us.

Back to the computer, back where we started so many words ago.

My laptop gave me some trouble one day a few weeks ago. Because I wasn’t in the happiest place, I responded by saying mean things about the computer. I called it old, and slow. Nobody likes to be old and slow.

I, of all people, should have known better. After the dryer and the fridge, I should have known that our machines can hear us. But I was reckless. Loose-lipped.

And do you know the very day I uttered the ugliness, the computer refused to charge. No matter how long it was plugged in, I had 17% battery life. And if I unplugged it, well, all hell broke loose. The computer would freeze and then crash. Basically, I was left with a machine that had to stay plugged in at all times and was very particular about whether it was moved at all. One small nudge, and freeze!

But here’s the important part.

I eventually got out of my funk and started feeling much more myself. One morning around the same time I shook off the blahs, Mark suggested that we buy a new computer. And I said, nah, I could make things work with this one, it’s not that old after all.

That day? Battery healed. Computer willing to be moved all over the house.

Tell me that’s just a coincidence. Go ahead.

I know this was lengthy, but sometimes with a cautionary tale such as this, you need the whole story. I hope you learned something valuable today.

And next time you’re at my house, watching as I lovingly pat my crappy-ass dishwasher while murmuring sweet nothings to it, you’ll understand.

I wonder…

:: What do you think about AI? Does it scare the daylights out of you?

* Re: Jeopardy!, I recently correctly answered every question in one category. It was about celebrity wives. Who is Diane Lane? $1000, baby. And I got Final Jeopardy right, too. The answer was Quidditch.

** Also, why was I watching Jeopardy!? I have no suitable answer for you. I have no answer for myself. I was drawn to the television in the middle of the afternoon. In my defense I was folding a mountain of laundry, because that seems to be my primary job function, and folding is a dull, lonely business. When I gave into the boredom and turned on the tube, there was Alex. So I watched.

6 Comments

  1. Oh yeah. Those appliances have feelings, for sure. Even hair dryers. Did I ever tell you about the time I was cursing my hair dryer for being so weak and taking so long to dry my hair…only to have it start smoking in my hand? No? Well, I guess I just did.
    amber´s last [type] ..Wordless Wednesday- Damn That’s Cold

  2. I will no longer curse the moaning, groaning, but still working, dishwasher.

    whew..

    Your work is done here.
    Alexandra´s last [type] ..Listen To Your Mother This Mothers Day

  3. Clearly that 911 operator wasn’t a parent. :-P Waking kids from a nap not only kills your couch time, but the kid is usually CRANKY! Or maybe that’s just my kid.
    Pop´s last [type] ..HALP! I Haz Blogstipation!

  4. I like to watch Jeopardy because I like to be right. Boom.
    KLZ´s last [type] ..Bad iPhone Poetry

  5. Whoa wait…you woke the child up from nap because of a dryer fire?!! I have no words.
    Hee hee
    Kimberly´s last [type] ..A Soul’s Quick Release

  6. Thats hilarious! I think the funniest part was wanting to leave your preschooler napping when the fire dept was on the way. I, too had to call the fire dept when my middle child was an infant. When they asked if everyone was out of the house, I grumbled as i had to wake him from his nap, too…..those naps are precious!!!
    Penelope´s last [type] ..Cutting Glove

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