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Anti-Human Apps

Summary: Smart phone apps do some amazing things. Others are designed to distance us from humanity, or turn us into sociopaths.

Text messaging has been referred to as a killer app, and indeed it is, when one uses it behind the wheel. It seems developers are continuing to build apps that turn some of us into sociopaths.

According to researchers - apparently desperate for grant money - at a couple of universities have come up with an app that uses the phone's camera to alert the user that a car is approaching. Yeah, perhaps this is useful for the disabled (though that is not mentioned in the article) but what happened to looking where you're walking? Why must we gaze longingly into the small screen while on a stroll?

Billions of transistors and an astonishing amount of software complexity is now the high-tech replacement for common sense.

The next version will no doubt emit a warning when there's danger of bumping into someone. Probably it will suggest a diversionary tactic - "turn right now!" The image of a New York sidewalk filled with people obeying these instructions is pretty amusing. Impact avoidance among so many people probably is a chaotic problem; I wonder how often individuals will wind up in an infinite loop, going in circles per the commands of their overlords.

One member of the group who created this marvel of engineering said that their goal is to make smart phones even smarter. The corollary: make users dumber.

Who pays for this "research"?

Too many mobile phone users are unwittingly trying to redefine the ancient notion of politeness. Those who can't be bothered to watch where they are walking put others at risk. Those who text while tailgating at 60 MPG put others at mortal risk. defines "sociopath" as "a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." By that definition these cell abusers are sociopaths.

I was listening to Bob Edward's Weekend on Sunday and was struck by a comment a guest made, which was along the lines of: "I was walking down the street with my mother and ignored the gentleman who passed by. Mom stopped, and told me that would be the last time I didn't greet someone I encountered."

Perhaps the next app will automatically exchange greetings with people, so we don't have to be bothered.

Published December 2, 2011