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A Fridge Too Far

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LG have been in the news this week talking about their new ‘text chat’ service which allows you to communicate with your household appliances. And when I say communicate, I mean these objects will actually talk back to you.

For example, you can ask your fridge, “Got any beer in?” and it will tell you the exact amount, prompting you to deem a visit to the corner shop necessary or in fact redundant.

It works by the fridge becoming ‘smart’ and taking a photo of the contents every time you open the door, presumably storing that data in the Cloud and giving you an almost real time update.

The technology that allows you to do this has been around for a while, but the texting layer is new.

You could also set your washing going and then send a text message to the machine asking, “What are you doing?” and it would reply saying “I’m on spin cycle” or “Rinsing”.

On the 2nd December 1992 the first SMS message was sent from an engineer's computer to the phone of Richard Jarvis of Vodafone. It read "Merry Christmas" and, because of the technology at the time, Jarvis couldn't respond. But now something that (unless it’s in a Sci Fi movie) shouldn’t really have a life of its own can have an intelligent (and admittedly polite) conversation with you.

Since 1992, texting has of course moved on and become increasingly popular. In July 2012, Ofcom found that people in the UK are even texting more than they are talking. Don’t worry though, we won't be replacing face to face conversation with digital messaging for at least another 18 months (that's just my estimate, don't go looking for it in the Ofcom report).

Digital messaging is a brilliant invention – if you’re running late, in a loud environment, in a rush, or want to fire off the same message to a group of people, texting is perfect.

Taking it a step further, the convenience of being able to communicate with your TV and ask it to record your favourite programme has helped to revolutionise on demand viewing.

But, have we come to rely on it too much? Especially if we’re starting to communicate with both man and machine simultaneously, both of which are equally capable of talking back….

I’m not suggesting that this new ability to ask your kettle on a scale of 1-10 how they are feeling today will ultimately mean we begin to phase out all human interaction.

However, texting doesn’t often allow for easy clarification, and can be easily taken out of context. And that’s just when you’re texting an actual human being.

What happens when I text my oven on the way home asking it to, ‘Please turn yourself on’ and I accidentally send it to one of my mates…

This is why I prefer intelligent instant messaging such as Microsoft Lync – it lets you see when people are available, in a meeting or can’t be contacted. I can easily switch between voice, video and instant chat depending on the nature of the conversation.

Often when you send a text message you don’t really know where’s it gone or when it’s been read. You’re pretty much in limbo. But Lync is real time so both side’s expectations are set.

Like with any technology, we just need to make sure we're using the right tool for the job. I’m sure that two way conversations with inanimate objects will be useful to many…

The line from the experts is that this is a ‘live beta test’ to test how useful it is and, “It’s the equivalent of Ford building a concept car. It’s about showing what can be done and seeing if there’s an appetite for it.” (Chris Green, principal photography analyst at the Davies Murphy Group consultancy.)

I’m a massive fan of that approach – it’s how we innovate after all.

Though just make sure you apply the right security measures. The last thing you want is your fridge sending a message to all of your contacts: "I have beer, wine and lots of food. Let’s have a party."

Especially if you were planning a quiet night in…

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