Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Man on the Moon

By Dennis Hinkamp

It’s a well-worn cliché that “if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we [fill in the blank]?” It’s been more than 40 years since we put a man on the moon so then, maybe, if we could put a man on the moon we could come up with a new cliché. And, I might add, we put multiple men on the moon with the equivalent of stone knives and abacuses compared to the computing power everyone now has in their dumb smart phone.

My nomination for the new cliché for $1 million…If we can invent a computer that can win at Jeopardy, why can’t we…:

Put something besides $20 bills in ATM machines? The self-checkouts at the grocery store do this. Coke and Pepsi vending machines do this; why not the places where we entrust our money?

Make front-loading washing machines that don’t stink unless you buy extra stink-proofing chemicals to put in them? This is where our technology has stalled. We now have the choice between saving water and having a laundry room that that smells like the socks before we washed them.

Make cars that find you? It is so embarrassing trying to find your Prius among all the other Priuses at the Public Radio fund raiser or the parking lot of Whole Foods. Why can’t you just whistle for it to come to you? Thousands of identically dressed penguins in an Antarctic rookery can find each other based solely on sound; why can’t we invent hybrid cars that can find us?

Bonus round: Why don’t we have “follow me” shopping carts? Who needs a drone to follow your every move? I want a self-aware shopping cart that avoids collisions and follows me like a dog that thinks I have bacon in my pocket.

Make SmartWool socks that are really smart? Seriously, the only things I know about them are that they are comfy and expensive. If they were really smart, they could find each other in the laundry basket rather than spreading themselves randomly around the house.

Invent self-closing toothpaste dispensers? This could save lives and relationships.

Develop algorithms that warn you not to buy certain products based on reviews and your current credit balance? I have come to accept that products pop up when I browse the Internet. Generally they are based on my web searches and Facebook posts. This is sort of good, but I would like to insert some filters based on my budget and tolerance for risk.

Make selfie-improvement sticks? Selfie sticks just play to our vanity. We need a stick that raps you on the head and says, “no, no, no, you are wasting your life.”

Make robots that do something useful? You know if I have a spill on the floor I can take care of that in three minutes with a mop or our dog; what I really want is a robot to shovel snow at 6 am in 10-degree weather. I also want a dishwasher that will load and unload itself.

Dennis Hinkamp is proud of himself for writing 522 politics-free words.

This article was originally published on April 4, 2017.