When a computer decides you must choke to death

Have we already reached the point when computers are beginning to control us? Openly control us, that is.

Perhaps you are skeptical about the notion that computers will, one day, actually control us.

Perhaps you might imagine yourself to be a little dependent on your digital friend but not to the degree that it tells you what to do.

Perhaps, however, you have never stayed at the Hotel Monte Mulini on Croatia's Adriatic Coast. Please allow me to explain.

I am currently in Rovinj, Croatia, home of the Weekend Media Festival. The festival has speakers from companies such as Google, MTV, and Nokia and, well, there was this one speech Saturday titled, "Why advertise when you can Twitter?" given by a bald chap you might know.

Rovinj is one of the most beautiful secrets in all the world, a place of such breathtaking charm and beauty that you simple do not want to leave. And the organizers put the speakers up at the aforementioned hotel, which seems to have dedicated itself to computerized logic.

You don't have to put your key card into a slot to enter your room. No, you wave it at a control panel and your door opens like that of the haunted castle in a horror movie.

In your room, there is another control panel that switches lights on and off and generally monitors the look and feel of your environment, including what temperature you are allowed to enjoy.

Rovinj, home of the Weekend Media Festival. CC Akk Rus/Flickr

It seems as if the computer has decided that you will only enjoy temperatures of 21 degrees centigrade (70 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher.

I don't know about you, but I like things to be a little cold indoors when it's hot outside, so I asked the nice man at reception whether I had misunderstood something about the control panel. What, indeed, did I have to do to make the room colder?

Ah, he told me, the computer system would like me to agree that 21 degrees is the optimum temperature. But he promised to reprogram it specially so that my room could be colder.

I skipped back to my room and pressed the "down" button on the aircon control. Nothing. Computers take some time to reprogram, don't they? I sat in hope. And, well, a little sweat.

I went to bed, believing I would be waking to a cooler environment. Still nothing. So the following morning, it was back to reception.

"Oh, the computer is still not allowing you?" said the man at the desk. "I will speak to maintenance."

Did I detect the sort of raised eyebrow on his head that said: "You, sir, don't realize who's calling the shots here"? Perhaps.

But as I write this Sunday, it's been three days. My computerized control panel still drifts between 21.4 degrees centigrade and 21.7 degrees centigrade and there is a little crustiness around my mouth after three days of hot, dry, conditioned air.

As I walk to the bathroom, I find myself bowing to the control panel, hoping that, somehow, it will agree to make things cooler. I also find myself thinking whether the man on reception is human and whether there is such a person as the maintenance man at all.

Is this the beginning of the end? Or the end of the beginning?

 

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