The point of a thought-experiment is to provide a way of exploring the consequences of an idea, not through a metaphorical prism, but through a literal imagining of what might happen as a result of something. The thought-experiment behind this event is cloaked, by its title as well as its content, in a series of patronisingly exaggerated and largely irrelevant quasi-hypotheses: what might it be like if our food talked to each other! What would my Marmite say to me if it could talk?
Whilst containing some interesting and important suggestions, this instalment of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas failed to follow through and patronised its audience along the way.
The real point of this talk is the future of ‘the internet of things’ and the impact that it will have on consumers. The thought experiment is this: if every object was connected to an internet and had the potential to communicate data, what sort of data would it communicate? Secondary to this consideration is how this phenomenon might be utilised, for good and for bad, and how it might change our relationship with the external world.
These are a complex ideas, but not complex enough to have to mollycoddle an audience through them. Divided into three sections, the event began with an interesting introduction, only to turn into a painfully silly and pointless creative piece imagining what food would say if it could talk. Not only was it deeply uncomfortable, this little piece was largely irrelevant, failing to answer or ask any interesting questions raised by the introduction. It added nothing and if anything it confused things, as it suggested itself as the main body of the underlying thought-experiment, and not just a humorous aside to it. With any number of interesting ways to develop the initial ideas – with a reasoned, intelligent discussion of them, for example – this was a big misstep and undermined most of the talk’s potential.
So many questions were left answered. For example, the basic practicalities of how all this might work. The idea put forward was that everything might have some kind of electronic tag, capable of collecting, sorting and interpreting data with some degree of autonomy. Scanning a barcode on your lemonade, for example, might lead to a suggestion that you make shandy with it, because on the way to the supermarket it passed a beer lorry and some data was exchanged between them. But how might it send and receive these signals? How might it spontaneously communicate with us? A section dealing with answers to these kinds of questions would have been hugely satisfying and wouldn’t have needed condescending theatre to help it along.
Whilst containing some interesting and important suggestions, this instalment of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas failed to follow through and patronised its audience along the way. About fifty people will be thinking about the internet of things right now as a result of this event; but fifty people are also desperately searching for someone to talk to them about it as if they were intelligent human beings.