When technologies go wrong

Remember the TV prank show, Candid Camera? It was one of my favorite shows growing up. Now it has been revived and modernized to fit popular culture, which, today, is inundated with automated technology and digital devices. Even the hosts have changed to a younger, more technologically savvy generation. Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s geeky girlfriend on the Big Bang Theory, is the host, and Allen Funt has been replaced by son Peter as co-host.

It was raining over the weekend, so I happened to catch a few episodes while working inside. (It was between that, Pulp Fiction, Naked Dating or golf.) Sure, you still have the classic pranks like “woman driving car without an engine,” or “guy dipping donut in another guy’s coffee.” But many of the jokes poked fun at technology itself and how it is changing our lives. Here are three of the pranks, which, ironically, aren’t that far-fetched when you think about the high-tech world of farming today.

Drone delivery. One skit featured a guy posing as a mail carrier who was testing the concept of drone delivery, which companies like Amazon are trying out. The mail carrier knocks on the residents’ doors and alerts them to an incoming package being delivered by a drone. Their reactions are similar to how many of us might feel--everything from “Honey, take cover” to “Wow, this thing is really cool. My favorite was the guy who made a mad dash to his garage while ducking and using his hands to shield his head. Another person, this time an older woman, watched the drone fly in and drop the package as she heard the sound of glass shattering from inside the box (just one of the bugs that will have to be worked out). When interviewed afterward, she said: “That thing scared the h*** out of me!”

Self-service checkouts. Another skit showed how online learning and self-serve checkouts can be taken to an extreme. One story was set in a dentist’s office, and the patients were asked to do their own dental exam. A voice-activated computer screen instructed the patients to put on a bib and surgical gloves and inspect their teeth. Most people called it quits when they were asked to inject novocaine.

Voice recognition software. A third skit poked fun at voice automation systems. One system asked the caller to choose a language as the computerized voice ran through a list of 20-plus options—everything from Dutch to Swahili. Unfortunately, English was not one of the options and callers were shown trying to master different accents to get through to an operator.

Ironically, many of these plot lines would have been implausible a decade or two ago. Now, they have become very much in our radar on the farm, where drones, Siri, and automated machinery promise to change how we grow crops. Funny, and a little scary, at the same time.

To see the full episodes, visit http://www.tvland.com/shows/candid-camera.

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