My phone owns me, sad to say

By Simon Round, September 17, 2013
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The New Year traditionally begins with apple and honey. But for many JC readers, this new year has been made slightly sweeter by the announcement from a different kind of Apple that there are now two shiny new iPhones on the market.

The new iPhone’s gimmick is that it can recognise your thumbprints, meaning no need for those cumbersome four-digit passwords. And it can do much more besides. Only 10 years ago my mobile phone had two functions. I could either call someone, or if I wanted, I could send a text message, although the basic keyboard meant that 4 a while u had 2 learn txt spk. I was rubbish @ first but l8ter became gr8 @ it.

Now, my smartphone, which is by no means the newest on the market, can tell me what the weather is going to do, book a table, guide me to the restaurant, let me know when the bus is leaving, play some music for me on the way home and if that is not enough in the way of entertainment I can simultaneously play Angry Birds or if I prefer, check the football results. Oh yes, and you can still call someone for a chat, although chances are you probably won’t have time to fit that in.

Such is the complexity of these phones that each one has more capacity than the whole Nasa computer system from 1969. Indeed, as I was reading on the internet the other day, some of the better ones have the power to summon aliens to your front door.

Once my phone was obedient but no longer

It has got to the point that my phone has become a constant companion and it feels a bit weird to be going out without it. This brought me to thinking about the possibility of genuine artificial intelligence. You see, for the first couple of years that I owned the phone it was obedient and well-trained.

But about a year ago I dropped the phone on the pavement. It was a gruesome scene — you could see the insides and the battery became completely detached. I managed to put it back together, but the phone was irreparably damaged — or so I thought.

For a few days it kept turning itself off at about 20-minute intervals. I was on the verge of taking it back to the shop for a replacement. But then, it seemed to cure itself. Brilliant, I thought. But the fall seemed to have affected the phone in other ways.

Now it had a mind of its own and it took a more active part in my life. It started to lose the contact details of certain ex-girlfriends and relatives. It also began to phone people at will, often at unsocial hours of the night. Apps that it deemed unsuitable were expunged, although, suspiciously, retro computer games like Tetris and Space Invaders remained untouched. Even more bizarrely, the voice of the satnav changed overnight from American to a rather clipped Home Counties voice, and the phone started to turn itself off again — but this time only on Shabbat.

Anyway, I’d love to go into more detail but I have to go. The phone seems to have invited my insurance broker, a great- aunt and the rabbi round for tea. Indeed it is ordering the cakes as I speak.

Last updated: 4:45pm, September 17 2013