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How ‘Smart’ Do Our Toasters Really Need to Be?

Justin Maiman
Daily Ticker
How ‘Smart’ Do Our Toasters Really Need to Be?

It's a question that keeps The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task up at night. And then it haunts his morning breakfast. Lots of perfectly toasted bagels and lightly-crisped slices of bread... ruined! As he wonders: why can't a toaster just be a toaster?

Sounds like the existential type of question built for a futurist.

Luckily, while Yahoo Finance was at TEDxWallStreet last week, we managed to wrangle an interview with Intel (INTC) futurist Brian David Johnson. And Task got to finally answer the question that's been crowding out everything else in his head:

Do I really need my toaster to be automated or linked up to the Internet?

"I think technology for technologies sake is sort of silly," responds Johnson. "Do you want to turn your toaster into a computer? Well maybe. But how is it gonna make your life better? I get very, very pragmatic...maybe if it monitors what you're eating and so it starts to combat obesity. Maybe then."

Task hadn't thought of that...

Or the App "PTSD Coach" that is now helping U.S. veterans deal with post-tramautic stress disorder on a day-to-day basis. Johnson points out you could make a jacket or even your body a computer of sorts to help monitor and treat other health issues. He thinks tech can be used for good and that at the end of the day, technology is what we make of it.

"Technology is not a demonic force," says Johnson. "Ultimately it's thoughtlessness. Evil is the absence of thinking. So when people think about the unintended consequences, when people think about technology, what I would say to them is: we have to think about it...and then we have to talk about it, we have to have that conversation about the future."

Related: The One Field That Will Survive the Internet Revolution

Johnson's new book Humanity in the Machine is in the same vein. He investigates algorithmic trading to see if it's possible to optimize for something besides profits in the financial sector. He concludes that you could easlily optimize technology for fairness, quality, happiness or even the American Dream.

"We can pretty much build anything as long as we imagine it. And we can ask ourselves: 'what are we optimizing for?'"

The moment we answer that, says Johnson, then we can build it.

That's deep. Something best to ponder over your morning coffee and toast.

Watch the video above to learn more about the Internet of things.

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