Says the coffee machine: “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t brew that for you now”

JL Hufford Coffee and Tea recently issued a press release stating they were designing coffee machines that use Artificial Intelligence to learn what people want and to make it for them before they even ask.

What will it be like to use such a machine? “For the first several weeks, the machine learns the drinking patterns of its users. Then it adapts. Every Sunday afternoon, it’s French vanilla cappuccino time. Each weekday morning, it starts brewing a triple espresso at 7:00 am. After dinner, it does up a creamy decaf café au lait.” How does it know where you are or at exactly which moment you’ll be ready for your drink? Product Manager James Pappas is tight-lipped about this aspect, but he hints at GPS tracking or existing RFID technology. What is certain is that some machines, like the Jura-Capresso Impressa F9 already have ports which could be connected to a computer. Once the computer is networked, the possibilities are many.”

Okay, the science fiction reader/writer in me loves this idea. But as fun as it sounds, sorry, it’s actually ludicrous.

I probably wouldn’t have said that 5 years ago. I used to be one of those people who went by the saying, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” A divorce, the liquidation of nearly all my worldly possessions, and a bit of philosophical and spiritual learning have taught me otherwise.

Hand brewing coffee with a little 49¢ maker is very Zen. Having a computer controlled machine make it for you … even decide what it is you want … is not.

The pleasure in life is in the things you do. I’m sorry if I’m coming off preachy here, but I believe this with all my heart. The more we relegate our thinking and decision making to machines, the less human we become ourselves. Sure, a coffee maker that decides what and when to make something for us is in itself harmless … and in fact, probably fun … but it’s another step down that path that will eventually lead to a dark place.

Or hasn’t anyone remembered lessons we’ve learned from John Conner?

I have nothing against a well designed tool that does a good job. However, I am critical of a tool — no matter how well designed and built — that over-complicates a simple job.

So you want to built a autonomous device? Build something that will disarm a bomb, or explore the oceans of Europa looking for extraterrestrial life. Don’t waste your time and talent designing a machine that does a simple job already done perfectly well by an ordinary person.

It doesn’t take a computer scientist to make a good cup of coffee. Nor does it take a very expensive piece of hardware controlled by an Artificial Intelligence. So if on Sunday afternoon you really do want a French vanilla cappuccino, go make yourself one. A little $30 machine available at your local big box store does a perfectly fine job.

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