The Algorithms Among Us

In the modern world you get used to the notion that a big part of your life is influenced, directed, or controlled by invisible, and unknowable, computer code. If you use a computer at work or at home, as many of us do, it’s as much a part of the routine as that essential morning cup of coffee. Every once in a while, however, you realize that, somewhere out in the internet ether, clicks have been analyzed, cookies have been implanted, and huge amounts of data about you have been compiled, and that data is being used to define you and your corner of the world.

I thought about this when I went on Facebook recently, and the first thing that popped up was a Beatles day-by-day post. I like the Beatles and their music, and some months ago someone sent me a link to a Beatles post. It looked interesting, I clicked it, and since then the Facebook computers have served me a steadily increasing diet of not only posts about the Beatles and their music, but also about individual members of the Beatles and their solo careers, and now other artists from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s pretty obvious that some server, somewhere, is trying to test just how broad my interests are and to define, ever more precisely, the exact nature of my existing musical and cultural preferences.

Some years ago we were looking for some new light fixtures. We eventually made our selections and our purchases, but for months thereafter light fixture ads seemed to dominate every website we visited. It was only after months of non-light fixture activity that the algorithms finally gave up and started to probe into other areas. The light fixture data is out there somewhere, brooding yet poised so that a single ill-advised click or search for a lamp could expose us to a new avalanche of ads featuring the latest lighting products.

I’m sure Facebook would argue that this process is a good thing: by learning more about us, it, and Google, and Amazon, and all of the other algorithm users can provide us with targeted information, products, goods, and services designed to appeal to our specific preferences. Of course, that ignores the risk that some bad guy hacks into the database where this wealth of information is stored, and can use it for theft, fraud, and other nefarious purposes. But it also ignores that this process of identifying and targeting interests puts you into an ever-shrinking box, and a kind of thought prison of your own devising. If I’m seeing that daily barrage of Beatles posts, that means I’m not seeing other stuff–stuff I’m not aware of, stuff that might challenge my views or broaden my horizons or shift my perspective. You can see how the algorithms can have a pernicious effect, especially when it comes to information, news, and political thought. Your clicks put you into an echo chamber.

Consider how different this is from the world of the past, when no one or no thing was trying to sculpt the world to suit your expressed tastes. On the school bus, in the newspaper, at the department store, and at the workplace you got whatever came your way. Businesses offered what they thought might appeal to a wide array of consumers–not just you. The world didn’t revolve around you, and the need to cater to your individual tastes. You might actually hear or read about different political views, see products that you weren’t specifically looking for, and so forth. The world seemed to be a much wider place because of it.

Of course, we’ll never go back to that world–at least, not if we’re going to be spending time on computers. But the sense of being confined is worrisome, and now makes me refrain from clicking and responding, just to be a bit of a contrarian and to leave some open questions about my interests, and views, and preferences. I prefer the wider world.

Did I say I liked the Beatles? I was kidding!

Late Night At The Lot

Yesterday, Kish had a horrendous travel day, with flight cancellations, delays, and multiple layovers. As a result of the mishaps, I found myself spending some quality time hanging at the John Glenn International Airport cell phone lot at about 2 a.m.

In the wee hours, the cell phone lot is a pretty quiet place. Unlike earlier in the day, there aren’t a lot of people moving in and out due to the arrival of flights they have been waiting for. There were perhaps three other vehicles in the lot at 2 a.m.–the Columbus airport isn’t a round-the-clock venue, unlike some larger airports–and my guess is that we all were waiting to make pick-ups for passengers on the same, delayed flight.

There’s a certain etiquette in the cell phone lot during the off hours. For one thing, there’s lots of open territory, and you want to make sure that you give the other cars plenty of room by parking multiple spaces away. If you were to drive up and park right next to another vehicle that has been waiting, the other driver probably would turn on the ignition and move to another spot. Whether you intend it or not, you would be sending an unnerving personal space message. Parking right next to another car at a vacant cell phone lot late at night is like violating the “two-urinal” rule at a not-very-busy men’s public restroom.

There’s also not really much to do at a cell phone lot while you’re waiting to get the text or the call that it’s time for the pick-up. It’s an ideal time for playing games on your phone. I’m a bit surprised, frankly, that airports haven’t installed one of those rolling advertising billboards at the front of their cell phone lots and offered businesses the opportunity to peddle their wares to the captive audience that is cooling its heels and waiting for a call. A news crawl would be a nice touch, too. When all you’re doing is passing the time, I guarantee you that people would look at the ads and follow the crawl. It could be a nice additional revenue source for JGI, and I bet the cell lot parkers would appreciate it.

If they have videos and advertisements on gas station pumps, why not at the cell phone lot?

The Car Clock Curse

At some point in the ’60s or ’70s, the true pinnacle of car clock technology was reached. Vehicles had clocks on their dashboards that accurately told the time and–crucially–could be easily changed by the owner to account for a shift to Daylight Savings Time or a cross-country drive to a different time zone.

Typically, the cars of that era used one of two adjustment methods, both of which were intuitive and easy to use. Cars that had standard clocks had a small knob located next to the clock that could be turned to move the minute hand backwards or forwards to reflect time changes. Cars that had at-the-time futuristic digital clocks had small buttons next to the clock that allowed the digits to move up or down. In either case, changing the time in your car clock was simple and took no more than a few seconds.

Cars stayed at this pinnacle for several decades, because designers presumably were smart enough to leave well enough alone. But at some point, they couldn’t risk adding new bells and whistles, and clocks like the one shown above were inflicted on the car-buying public. That’s not an actual clock, regrettably, it’s a software depiction of one. To change the time, you need to dig out the inches-thick owner’s manual, find the instructions on how to change the time, and then follow a devilishly complicated series of steps that could only have been concocted by an anti-social software engineer. A time change that used to be a snap now takes about an hour and is the source of tremendous frustration.

The result is that this particular car clock has become functionally inoperative. Although the clock indicates it is 4:22, it is actually 9:51 in the real world. Currently, at least, the clock is precisely 6 hours and 31 minutes fast. I keep meaning to try to change it, but it’s one of those unwelcome tasks that keeps getting put off. So whenever we drive somewhere, I see the stupid clock and am painfully reminded of my technological ineptitude and have to do mental calculations to get to the correct time.

Fortunately, perhaps, most new cars come with a clock that is set by the GPS system, which changes time automatically–at least, so long as the GPS system is functioning. If the GPS is on the fritz, though, the car owner is out of luck and out of time.

Car clocks are a good example of how some purported advances in technology really aren’t advances at all.

Building A Better Mousetrap

It’s a pretty common scenario. You’ve had lunch at a fast food restaurant, eaten your meal, and are getting ready to leave. Because you are a nice, neat person, you go to dump your trash and deposit your tray, only to encounter a disgusting trash bin. Either it’s a bin with a swinging inward door that has been made gross and sticky by people using their full trays to push it open–because no rational person would touch the door with their hand, leaving food waste and leftover soda smeared on the door, or it’s a top-load receptacle that is filled past the rim with wrappers, soda cups, and other untouchables.

The trash deposit issue is one of those things that give fast-food restaurants a bad name.

Yesterday, at a Chick-fil-A in Tucson, we found an ingenious solution to the trash deposit issue. The restaurant had a motion-activated trash can door that swung open as you approached. Even better, the door was tall and wide enough to allow you to put your tray through the door, turn it over to dump the trash, and then remove it–all without having to touch the door or trash can itself. And because Chick-fil-A pays attention to the details and has sufficient staff, even during the height of the lunch hour rush the trash can was empty and not in overflow mode.

It’s nice to know that chains like Chick-fil-A are paying attention to the little details of the fast food experience, and that somewhere out there inventors are continuing to work on building a better mousetrap.

Science And Sports

If, like me, you love football, you can’t help but wonder about the future of the game. With players continuing to get bigger, and faster, and harder-hitting, the game has become increasingly dangerous, and brutal hits and season-ending injuries are common. To cite just one example of the injury plague, the NFL saw an 18 percent increase in concussions, league-wide, in the 2022 season.

Concussions that can have devastating long-term consequences are an especially serious concern, and quarterbacks–the keystone player around whom the offense revolves–often bear the brunt of the injuries. As a result, you need to have a unique kind of mental toughness to play quarterback in the NFL, or in any major college football program.

The NFL has tried to deal with this problem by tinkering with the rules and penalties, but also by turning to science and technology. Yesterday the League announced that it and the NFL Players’ Association had approved the first quarterback-specific helmet, which is designed to provide better protection against the concussions that can occur when a quarterback’s head makes contact with the ground. Laboratory testing showed that the new helmet design performed 7 percent better in reducing impact severity in comparison to other helmets.

The key development, according to an executive for the company that designed the helmet, “is that it has a deformal outer shell, which means when you take an impact in any location on that helmet, it will deform or basically dent in that location to absorb the impact.” This development is just the latest sign of how quickly the science and technology of helmets is changing. The ESPN article linked above notes, for example, that due to the latest round of testing seven helmets that were highly recommended in 2020 have been downgraded to prohibited for 2023.

It will be interesting to see how fans will react to a dented helmet as a visible sign of just how hard a quarterback was walloped. We can also expect continuing changes in the protective gear players wear to protect their knees, ankles, shoulders, and various fragile ligaments and tendons. The reality, however, is that there is only so much you can do, because the human body isn’t designed to repeatedly endure hard hits from 320-pound players moving at top speed. Football is just a dangerous game.

The Airport Den Of Risk

The FBI recently identified another security risk that we all need to be aware of when we are at the airport. Now we not only need to worry about unattended bags, keeping an eye on suspicious behavior of other would-be travelers, and avoiding use of “free” wifi that might be a ruse offered by hackers, we also need to avoid plugging into the USB ports at public charging stations at airports–or any other public places.

The FBI’s Denver office notes that hackers “have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices,” so you should carry your own charger and USB cord and use a standard electrical outlet instead. The FCC has weighed in on this risk, too. The hacking technique, alliteratively called “juice jacking,” involves the hackers loading malware directly into the public USB port that can then automatically load to your cellphone when it is plugged into the charging port. The risk exists because USB cables are designed to both transfer power and transfer data–which means that if the device with the “free” USB port has been hacked, it becomes a handy way to implant bad code onto the devices of unsuspecting travelers who just want to make sure they’ve got sufficient power to operate their phones or laptops while they are in the airport.

Once the malware is on your phone, it could allow the hackers to access your data and ongoing communications, use the information to commit identity theft, instruct your bank to transfer funds, prepare targeted “spearphishing” efforts that draw upon your personal information, or do any of the countless other evil things that hackers routinely do. You can avoid this risk by bringing your own uninfected charging cable and wall plug and then plugging them directly into an AC outlet–which is designed simply to transmit power, and not transfer data, too.

Airports are increasingly risky places these days, and the criminal element is always coming up with new ways to take advantage of common behavior–like the concern about having enough juice for your phone while you wait at the gate–to achieve their nefarious ends. At the airport, regrettably, it is safer to trust nothing and no one.

My Hand-Held Memory Aid

The other day we were out to dinner and decided to try a new Sicilian wine from the Mt. Etna region. It was delectable, and I wanted to remember it. Lacking access to paper and pen, I did the normal, modern thing: I took out my cell phone and took a picture of the bottle so I could look for it in the future. (If you are a red wine drinker, I recommend it, by the way.)

What would we do without cell phones? They are an indispensable tool for people needing to perform crucial tasks in the hurly-burly of our hectic world. Not only do they allow you to take selfies and immediately post them to various social media sites, conclusively determine the names of characters on obscure ’60s sitcoms that you are arguing about with friends at lunch, and check the weather forecast on multiple occasions during the day, they also are an indispensable hand-held memory aid.

Now, if I could only remember to check my photos the next time I visit the wine shop . . . .

Redefining “Totaled”

When many of us think of a car being “totaled,” we think of a car that has been in a serious accident and has been severely smashed up, so that the cost of repair would exceed the value of that car. But that rule-of-thumb definition–at least, the severe damage part–doesn’t necessary hold for electric cars.

Reuters recently published an interesting article on low-mileage electric vehicles being written off with only minor structural damage. The issue is the battery packs, which are an expensive part of any electric car. The Reuters piece notes that even a minor fender-bender may damage the car’s battery apparatus beyond the ability to assess or repair. As a result, even low-mileage cars are getting written off, even though the outward appearance of the car may reflect easily repairable damage. The Reuters article, which searched electric vehicle salvage sales in the U.S. and Europe, found low-mileage EVs built by many different manufacturers among the sales listed.

The EV battery problem has two obvious practical consequences. First, the issue is causing insurers to hike their rates for electric cars, which are more expensive to cover than internal combustion cars. And second, there is a two-fisted environmental impact. Because the creation of EV battery packs involve significant carbon dioxide emissions, the vehicles are intended to be driven for thousands of miles, at zero emissions, to offset the impact of creating the batteries in the first place. Low-mileage write-offs obviously thwart the plan to offset the CO2 impact. Moreover, the electric battery packs for those written-off cars need to be disposed of, which has its own negative environmental impact.

Some of the EV manufacturers contend that their battery packs are capable of being repaired, but they often are guarded about releasing battery data. And EV advocates note that, because the cars tend to feature the latest safety elements, they likely get into fewer accidents. But the practical realities encountered by insurance companies and auto repair shops suggest that the battery pack issue–like fires and recharging issues–are going to need to be a focus of electric car manufacturers going forward.

Into The World Of Deepfakes

A photo of the Pope in a puffy coat, shown above, “went viral” on social media recently, with lots of people offering comments about the Pope’s apparent choice of cold weather gear. There was only one problem: the photo wasn’t real. Instead, it was a “deepfaked” image, generated by a new and improved edition of AI software, that fooled millions of people.

The images of the Pontiff followed wide circulation of deepfaked images that supposedly showed scenes of former President Trump being arrested by New York City police officers. Those photos were featured on many websites. People knew that an indictment and arrest hadn’t happened yet, but the images were so remarkably “real”-looking that they became a hot topic on the internet and social media apps.

It’s time to recognize that we now live in a deepfake world, folks.

In recognition of that reality, the news media is starting to run stories about what you can do to try to spot deepfaked images, like those purporting to be of the Pope in a puffy white jacket. Basically, the advice comes down to thoroughly scrutinizing images and looking at every element and feature to see whether something looks weird, incomplete, or distorted. If you carefully examine the deepfaked image of the Pope, for example, you might notice clues of deepfakery from the hands, the glasses, and the crucifix.

The problem, of course, is that people won’t do that kind of detailed analysis, unless they suspect that there is a reason to do so. As one person said in the article linked above, she accepted the Pope deepfakes as real without a second thought. The Pope wearing a poofy coat isn’t major news. The Trump arrest deepfaked images, on the other hand, involved what would have been a huge development and could easily be checked against the news websites for confirmation.

This suggests that the issue of deepfaked images is going to be problematic at the plausible margins of our world, with purported photos of celebrities, politicians, and world leaders wearing something, eating or drinking something, or otherwise doing something the social media world might be interested in. I hadn’t seen the deepfaked photos of the Pope because I don’t really do social media. But if you do dip your toe in the social media waters, you might want to pause before reposting an image that might not be real.

If the great leaps forward in AI image generation capabilities cause people to think for a minute before making a snarky comment about a purported photo they have seen, that would be a good thing. I’m not holding my breath that this will happen, but wouldn’t it be ironic if AI deepfakery caused the social media world to be a bit more cautious?

Tackling The Power Problem

Power is the foundation on which a modern, civilized society is built. Technology, which is proffered as the basis of so many solutions to humanity’s problems, requires power to operate. Without electricity, lights won’t light, appliances won’t operate, computers won’t compute, heaters won’t heat and air conditioners won’t cool . . . and the list goes on and on.

You would have thought that, by 2023, the world would have solved the power problem. Instead, the problem seems to have gotten worse. Many of the 54 countries in Africa, for example, are experiencing terrible and chronic power problems that leave millions of people without power at all and others struggling with rolling blackouts, power grid collapses, and the need to conform their schedules to power availability. The problem is traced to limited and aging infrastructure that isn’t capable of reliably supplying power that meets the needs of people in the modern world.

Of course, power problems aren’t limited to Africa. Two of the most populous states in the U.S.–California and Texas–have experienced widely publicized power issues in recent years. Last year, California’s power grid was so taxed by a heat wave that residents were told to reduce their electrical use or face rolling blackouts–a situation that awkwardly arrived only days after California’s announcement that residents must transition to electric cars that are estimated to require the state to triple its existing power generation capabilities. The California power situation is so dicey that the state reversed its position on closure of its only remaining nuclear plant, which supplies 9 percent of the state’s power. In Texas, where many residents were left without power during a crippling winter storm in 2021, legislators are currently debating proposals to make the power grid more reliable.

These examples reveal an easily overlooked truth: power generation is one of those basic points that should always be on the agenda for modern governments. Before edicts are issued requiring people to buy and drive electric vehicles, or purchase smart technology, let’s make sure that we have sufficient power to reliably supply all of these devices–and let’s also look ahead at how the demands on our power generation capabilities and power grids will be equipped to handle the expected demand five, ten, or twenty years into the future. Nuclear power plants, hydroelectric dams, and offshore wind farms don’t get built and linked into power delivery systems overnight.

The Distracted Driving Epidemic

The National Safety Council released statistics last week about highway fatalities. The news about driving on the open road in America is not good: the NSC’s preliminary estimate is that 46,000 people died on U.S. highways in 2022. That’s a 22 percent increase over pre-pandemic 2019, and puts highway fatalities among the leading causes of death in the United States–especially for people under 30.

The NSC’s president and CEO, Lorraine Martin, makes the point that almost all crashes are preventable. She notes: “Words matter, and as a country, we need to learn and understand that there are no vehicle accidents. Each crash that occurs on America’s roads is entirely preventable and unacceptable. We must change the way we think about designing and moving around in our communities, understanding that people will make mistakes and the cost of those mistakes should not be serious injury or death.”

One of the mistakes that people routinely make is distracted driving caused by cell phone use on the road. It’s hard to estimate precisely how many crashes are caused by texting or other uses because reliable statistics aren’t being collected–but the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Bruce Landsberg, believes the impact is tremendous. He calls the problem of distracted driving caused by cell phones an “epidemic” and notes: “Everybody talks about fatalities, but there are hundreds of thousands or more life-altering injuries — broken limbs, brain injuries, horrible burns. This doesn’t have to happen. These crashes are not accidents. They are completely preventable.”

Experts believe that as many as one-third of crashes are caused by distracted driving–and if you’ve been on the road recently, and seen a driver drift from one lane to another for no apparent reason or passed a car driving erratically only to note that the driver is checking out their phone, you credit those estimates. People are addicted to their phones, and that fact is making our highways more dangerous than ever. Efforts to prevent distracted driving, like “text stops” along highways, don’t seem to be making a meaningful difference, either.

You wonder if the ultimate solution to distracted driving will be technological, achieved either through reliable self-driving cars, or through dampening fields or automatic deactivations that prevent the use of cell phones in moving vehicles, or through some other invention. Cell phone users seem incapable of voluntarily stepping away from their phones, even when they are behind the wheel. They just believe, mistakenly, that they can safely look at their phones and tap out a message when they are barreling down a highway at 70 mph–but when they realize in a split-second that they are wrong, it is often too late to recover.

The Vinyl Rebound

We got rid of our vinyl records decades ago. They were a pain to maintain, and little kids and turntables, toner arms with delicate needles, and easily scratched vinyl records are not a good combination. When CDs were introduced, I figured vinyl would inevitably go the way of the dodo.

But I was wrong–vinyl has made a comeback. Last year, for the first time since the 1980s, the sale of vinyl record units outpaced the sale of CDs. Of course, both physical forms are far behind streaming services in the delivery of music–but still, vinyl obviously has its fans.

Interestingly, no one knows exactly why vinyl is hot (or at least lukewarm) again. Some diehards insist that the sound produced by vinyl is superior to streaming services and CDs–richer, fuller, more robust, more nuanced. Others believe vinyl fans like the album as a kind of art piece, and clearly some classic covers, like that of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, look a lot better on a full-sized album sleeve than on a shrimpy CD box. Others believe that album lovers like the tactile sensation of playing an album and its related elements, like carefully removing it from its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, keeping it clean to avoid those annoying skips, and deftly replacing it when the playing is done.

And here’s proof that the album renaissance has some legs: manufacturers like Sony and Victrola have started to produce new turntables again. Obviously, they think there is a market there, and one that is probably here to stay.

Fake Quotes

The culture of fakery on the internet is strong. One bit of evidence for this is the prevalence of fake quotes attributed to famous historical figures. You might be scanning the comments to a particular news article and see that some unknown person or bot has inserted a bon mot from a trusted, respected person from the past, with their picture, hoping to quash further discussion with the weight of their authority. The pictures are of the person, but the quotes often are phony.

Abraham Lincoln seems to be a favorite source for fake quotes. So many spurious sayings have been attributed to our 16th President that “fact checkers” write articles to debunk them and Lincoln scholars are forced to weigh in to try to correct the record. You also see fake quotes attributed to Albert Einstein, Sun Tzu, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Oscar Wilde, and just about anyone else of any historical significance. The idea is to trade on the reputation of the historical figure to make your point by coming up with a fake quote that is reasonably plausible, or may even have been said by somebody else. It’s unfair to the historical figures and an appalling approach to argument when you think about it–but unfair and appalling often aptly characterize discourse on the internet.

And, sadly, it works. People get taken in by the ruse. Years ago, the Republican Party Twitter feed attributed an obviously phony quote to Lincoln and had to endure a few weeks of embarrassment at its foolishness. But even the debunked quotes continue to circulate, next to the pictures of their alleged sources, ready to mislead the gullible. And many people don’t exercise skepticism and try to check the actual facts before reposting that Lincoln zinger that they saw.

My grandmother used to say “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” That’s wise advice as applied to life generally and the internet specifically. If you see a quote attributed to Honest Abe that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Banking On The Power Of Annoyance

How do you incentivize someone to pay their bills? The Ford Motor Company has come up with an approach that would invoke the power of annoyance, in conjunction with “smart” technology, to encourage people who have fallen behind on their car payments to catch up.

Ford has filed for a patent on technology that would allow the car maker to take certain vehicle-related actions when a car owner misses payments. The technology could permit Ford to remotely turn off the car’s air conditioning, shut down the radio and sound system, disable cruise control and automatic windows, cause constant beeping in the car’s interior, and ultimately to lock the car owner out of the car altogether. (A car without air conditioning, radio, and working windows sounds like one of my battered ’70s cars, but I digress.) And, if the car has self-driving capability, the technology could even cause the car to drive itself to a location where it can be picked up by the repo man.

Ford’s patent application acknowledges that the disabling power of the technology “may cause an additional level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicle”–which really is the whole point. Ford also says it has no plans to deploy the technology at present, but the patent application gives us a glimpse of a future where manufacturers of items that are often paid off over time equip their devices with technology that gives them self-help options in the event of non-payment. And, once the technology is installed, manufacturers would no doubt establish an order of priority that would steadily increase the annoyances until they reached the unbearable point: perhaps starting with disabling the windows and the sound system, then nixing the air conditioning during the summer, and finally counting on an irritating, incessant beeping, in combination with everything else, to bring the car owner to his knees and finally pay up.

Really, this kind of remote-controlled activity is just part of the price of “smart” technology. Once it gets rolled out in new cars, I predict it will invigorate the used car market.

End of (Tech) Life

It seems like virtually every kind of consumer device that is available these days can be purchased in a “smart” form. Smart phones, smart toasters, smart lighting systems, smart refrigerators, smart TVs–they all are equipped with software, they all are linked to the internet in some way or another, and they allow you to do cool things, like control your lights turning on and off from hundreds of miles away or get messages from your fridge when you’re low on milk.

Recently, though, people have begun focusing on one of the downsides of the “smart” stuff: the fact that, like any software-based product, at some point the manufacturer is going to stop providing technical support, software updates, and patches. The manufacturers call this having an “end of life” policy for their tech. Purchasers of the product get notice of the policy being invoked, and they often feel blindsided when they realize that they are either going to have to replace a perfectly good device that isn’t being supported any more, or, after the end-of-life Grim Reaper visits, they are going to have to run the significant risks involved in continuing to use an outdated internet-connected device that is thereby especially vulnerable to hackers.

The manufacturer-customer push-and-pull of tech end-of-life policies recently played out with a security camera manufacturer called Arlo and its customers. Arlo announced that some of its cameras were reaching their end of life and software support and cloud storage services would be ending, the customers pushed back, and Arlo announced that it was deferring the end-of-life point for the devices–although the end of life will inevitably come.

You can understand why manufacturers want to establish a clear and definite end of life for their products. They want to focus on the new products that are on the market right now and new products that are under development, and not have their software designers and code-writing wizards focused on fixing problems or vulnerabilities with old tech. What some might call planned obsolescence others would call an efficient allocation of workforce resources and brainpower.

But for consumers, the end-of-life issue means thinking carefully about what you really want before making your purchase. We all accept the need to periodically obtain new laptops, smartphones, and other devices where the software and internet access are a core element of the product’s purpose. But do you really want to buy a “smart” toaster, oven, refrigerator, or other major appliance, knowing that one of these days you’re either going to either have to replace a perfectly functional object or run the risk of a security breach? Smart appliances might have some cool bells and whistles, but their dumb cousins might just be the better option as a long-term strategy.