Monday, 25 February 2019

A Dystopian SF Idea or Maybe Just a Plotline for a Soap?

I came across a little story in the National today that came as no surprise to me but it was interesting to see a suspicion of mine supported.
The story was "Scottish scientists identify security flaws in 'smart' technology" and it was showing how some academic research had exposed security flaws in smart domestic appliances. The convenience of having an internet fridge that can remind you what to put on your shopping list through an app, or even just order direct from your favourite supermarket opens up an access-way for hackers to enter your home network and do their worst, perhaps using your account to fill their fridge, for example.
Now, in terms of a systems analysis viewpoint, smart appliances stand out as an unnecessary complication and a removal of a key control point in the domestic economy. Your house system includes a number of places where you store food: the fridge, the freezer, the larder cupboard, the spice rack, and others. Occasionally you check the contents of these places, make a list and shop for more food.
Shopping can take several forms these days. You can go to the shops and buy the items, bringing them home yourself, or the shop may deliver bulkier items once you have bought them in the store. Alternatively you can order from home and the shop will deliver the goods, or keep them in store for you to collect.
The key system point here is that the householder, the human being, makes the decision to spend some of the household's money on some items. With a smart appliance it is possible for the appliance to make the decision on the spend. In this way, the human being has no control of the situation and, if they don't monitor it, the chances of it going wrong, with financial consequences, are high.
Introduce an opportunity to hack your app and you are in serious trouble.
Now, getting more on theme with my blog here, would this be a good plot for a science fiction story?
For folk who don't partake of science fiction this would seem to be an obvious one. However, there have been many sf stories in the past warning us of inappropriate use of computer technology and the danger of repeating someone else's work would be a problem. Last year, the X-Files had a great episode on just this topic and a whole parcel more and pretty well sealed the sf box on this one. Check out "Rm9sbG93ZXJz."
I would say that, now the academics have put this sf-writer's paranoia on a confirmed rational footing, that it is now the job of mundane writers to wake up to this as a present-day problem and start to include subplots in the soaps where characters lose all their money to their freezer, rather than the tired old gambling addictions or other well-worn paths. Technology addiction is a problem now and ground-breaking writers should start to look at it. They could start by reviewing the sf canon on this very subject.
Myself? This might be a nice wee episode for a character's back story but certainly not the centrepiece of a whole tale.

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