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5/23/2014
00:00 AM
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Product Recalls From Our IoT Future

Google's Nest recall may indicate what's in store as software and network connectivity invade more consumer products. Here's a peak into a plausible near future.

Google recently announced it was recalling over 400,000 smoke detectors from Nest Labs. According to a story in InformationWeek, lab tests showed that “the device's Nest Wave feature, which allows users to turn off the alarm with a wave of the hand, could be activated inadvertently, thereby preventing the device's alarm from sounding during a fire.”

The company identified a motion-detection algorithm as the cause of the problem.

As more consumer products get beefed up with computing power and network connectivity, I wondered how the Internet of Things might affect product recalls in the future. Here’s a few predictions.

Smoke Alarm

Dear Sir or Madam: Please update the software of your Roost smoke alarm right away. Due to a misconfigured algorithm, your alarm may interpret clouds of CO2 and temperatures above 400 degrees Fahrenheit as a barbecue, cookout, or Fourth of July celebration instead of a house fire.

Smoke Alarm II

Dear Sir or Madam: Please download a software patch for your Roost smoke alarm today. A faulty sensor translates activity such as standing, making lunch, or walking past the alarm as a distress signal. If such motion is detected, the alarm will emit a continuous high-pitched screech while auto-dialing 911. Our engineers recommend you remain excruciatingly still while the software downloads and the system reboots. This process should take approximately 45 minutes.

Robot Vacuum

Dear Sir or Madam: Because of a software bug in the CleanSweepR 5000, the onboard camera on the vacuum has uploaded photos of your filthy living room to our marketing department. Due to circumstances beyond our control, some of these photos were posted to Instagram, and have subsequently been repurposed as online “memes,” including a rather humorous mashup with Doge. Much sad. Very apology.

Self-Driving Car

Dear Sir or Madam: Please immediately deactivate the self-driving feature of your 2018 sport utility vehicle. A faulty algorithm misinterprets nearby pedestrian activity as an attempted carjacking. This activates the “Advanced Family Safety” app, including automated TASER fire and “targeted acceleration” intended to disable the suspect using the car’s bumper and a high rate of speed.

Google Glass

Dear Sir or Madam: We are recalling Google Glass due to a faulty misapprehension that people want to look ridiculous. Please remove Glass immediately.

Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio
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jjessup570
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jjessup570,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 7:49:29 PM
Keep the Friday posts coming!
I am a little behind, but I love this post and look forward to them every time you have a chance to post one. And I totally agree, smoke alarms should detect smoke. Enough said. 
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
5/28/2014 | 1:03:03 PM
Re: Faux automation, false alarms
I think there's a certain class of products, smoke alarms included, that don't necessarily get more useful as you add more features (and thus more complexity, and thus more opportunities for failure or mistakes). I want a smoke alarm to do two things: beep when there's smoke, and beep when the battery dies. They don't need a network connection or a motion detection algorithm to do those things.
athorndike
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athorndike,
User Rank: Moderator
5/24/2014 | 1:43:16 PM
Re: Funny, but dangerous!
Very clever Andrew - provided some good giggles, especially the Google Glass. So true jporter! I always lag on updating my phone software. Would be scary to lag on smoke alarms. The self-driving car concept played in a pretty funny way out on a recent episode of 'Silicon Valley' on HBO.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2014 | 11:52:02 PM
Re: Funny, but dangerous!
This is a joke with all too much truth to it. Yes, the IOT is coming, but like most things that are enormously complicated, the first iterations won't work quite right, and there will always be people who put too much faith in it too soon. This is an area that will definitely need a lot of skeptical adult supervision.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/23/2014 | 2:29:06 PM
Faux automation, false alarms
There's not as much sophisticated perception and intelligence in automated devices as in the human eye, brain and hand. It's actually hard to automate some of the judgments we're able to make and things we're able to do with scant information. If we're not careful, our smoke alarms will become like the car alarms -- no one pays attention to them anymore.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/23/2014 | 2:21:13 PM
Re: Funny, but dangerous!
Artificial intelligence is just a way of encoding natural stupidity by omission. 
jporter14
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jporter14,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2014 | 1:25:36 PM
Funny, but dangerous!
These are so funny! I got a good Friday morning mood going from this!

But on a serious note, the scary thing is that network connected safety devices are only as safe as the owners allow them to be. I can't tell you the number of time's I've put off software updates on my personal laptop out of laziness. But putting off updates on a smoke detector could serioulsy put you in danger.
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