On smart washing machines and 'cricketware'

Summary:A Spanish designer has created a smart washing machine that uses a fingerprint sensor to identify its users and ensure that the same person doesn't do laundry twice in a row. The apparent intent is to enforce a fix for a long-standing perceived gender imbalance, to wit: Women always do the laundry while men, for their part, tend to contribute by watching football.

A Spanish designer has created a smart washing machine that uses a fingerprint sensor to identify its users and ensure that the same person doesn't do laundry twice in a row. The apparent intent is to enforce a fix for a long-standing perceived gender imbalance, to wit: Women always do the laundry while men, for their part, tend to contribute by watching football.

So what?

I've always wondered what "smart appliances" would be smart about. (As AI researcher Seymour Papert succinctly puts it, "You can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something.") The smart washer is probably as good an answer as any I've heard. And certainly advancing gender equity is a laudable, if unexpected, occupation for a major appliance.

Of course, it's not very flexible in the face of vacations, illness or other events that disrupt the alternating schedule. Maybe it would be better if the machine just used its fingerprint sensor to keep a running tally (Linda: 102, Joe: 6)--measuring something publicly is often enough to change it. With that in mind, why not a refrigerator that loudly announces your weight each time you open the door? Mops and vacuum cleaners that howl mournfully if they aren't used often enough? And a smart bathroom floor that turns black in proportion to the number of bacteria living on it? (We actually had a floor like this when I was in college and I confess it didn't change our behavior in the slightest.) Breathalyzer ignition interlocks probably also fall into this category--a category I've christened "Cricketware"--devices that, like Jiminy Cricket, are designed to keep us on the straight and narrow...whether we want them to or not. (Accenture Technology Labs' own Alex Kass is working on the Personal Awareness Coach, a wearable piece of Cricketware that spots and remediates bad habits. It should be very irritating. More in a future post.)

Topics: Tech Industry

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