Perfect / Hellish Day Exercise

One way to reach genuinely novel and different ideas is to change context completely. By asking participants to temporarily not think about software engineering, but instead think about societal challenges, we created an environment in which new thinking could blossom and participants could engage with issues that they feel genuinely passionate about.

In our search to identify the grand challenges of the population at large in the next thirty years, we therefore asked the workshop participants on the second day to imagine how a typical day would be like in 2030, in particular how technological advances might affect our daily lives. Based on that, the participants were split into two groups to come up with two futuristic scenarios: a perfect day and a hellish day in 2030. What follows is the result of this exercise.

A Day in 2030

The year is 2030. A day in the lives of Mary, Oliver, and their children (Thomas and Brianna) is about to unfold.

A Perfect Day

Mary is gently awakened by her smart bed, which determined the ideal wake-up time based on her family calendar, sleep cycle, weather and traffic forecast, as well as other environmental conditions. If necessary, the wake-up time is automatically adjusted due to last-minute changes. For example, a time change of a doctor’s appointment could require Mary to get up earlier. The smart bed checks her health conditions for an update (e.g., blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.). Without waking Oliver, Mary quietly walks down to her coffee, freshly brewed for her. The news dashboard on her personal device shows headlines according to her preferences. The device also shows a to-do list for the day and reminds her of the upcoming events of the day: e.g., the kids’ after school activities. After coffee, she takes a shower that is automatically set up for her personal water temperature, pressure, and spray type.

Mary meets her husband Oliver and the kids Thomas and Brianna downstairs to have breakfast. The healthy lifestyle assistant (which keeps track of food intake, health conditions, etc.) provides customized suggestions for breakfast for all family members. The smart fridge and pantry assess their respective inventories to keep track of the specific ingredients for the selected suggestions while optimizing the family’s sustainability targets.

The family participates in a field trial for the next generation urban transportation system. Different autonomous vehicles arrive to pick up the family members to take them to their respective destinations. Once aboard, Mary reviews the grocery orders, with the smart fridge and pantry both suggesting items to buy based on their current inventory. Factors affecting the specific items ordered include meal plans that Mary and Oliver have designed, coupon offers, collective family health conditions, and availability of fresh ingredients produced locally in a sustainable way. After Mary reviewed the list, the order is sent and delivery is scheduled. Thanks to the smart devices and applications that Mary and her family use, they are able to save a lot of time.

In the afternoon, the health advisor notices Mary’s free time and, based on her current health status, suggests her to exercise. As she thinks this is a good idea, Mary looks at a schedule of all exercise groups with up-to-date availabilities and confirmed bookings of her friends. Mary then chooses her group according to availability and her personal preferences.

After exercising, Mary visits Thomas and Brianna’s soccer match and takes pictures and videos using her smart glasses. She instantaneously shares this experience with friends and family on social networks. Following the match, Mary and her kids are automatically picked up by their autonomous car, which drives them home. Even though the whole family was out, dinner is already waiting for them. It was prepared by the kitchen robot, taking all the preferences, activities and health statuses of the family members into account. The robot also takes care of doing the dishes after dinner. Strangely, Oliver has not yet returned from his day and cannot be reached on his personal device.

After dinner, there is nevertheless time for family and recreation. The entertainment system suggests activities for Mary, Thomas, and Brianna, synchronized with their social networks and available friends. Before going to bed, the family’s personal devices help them to plan the next day, by giving suggestions for optimizing time and creating more free time!

A Hellish Day

Oliver wakes up. A quick look at the clock tells him that he is already 30 minutes late. “What’s happening? How come the alarm did not go off on time? Didn’t I have an important doctor’s appointment today?” After several seemingly endless minutes checking the logs, Oliver discovers that the embedded health sensors of the bed had detected extreme fatigue, and hence the system decided that it would be better for him to stay in bed a little longer than usual. Oliver then glances at his personal agenda and realizes that he is mistaken, since there is no medical appointment noted for today. Since it is now later than usual, Oliver decides to skip the health check proposed by his smart bed.

Oliver makes his way into the kitchen, only to find that his warm breakfast is not ready for him. What had happened was that due to an incompatibility introduced by the latest wireless protocol update, the bed was not able to communicate correctly with the calendar schedule, the alarm clock, and the kitchen appliances. Thanks to built-in resilience, the kitchen protocol has a cold backup breakfast ready for Oliver, but Oliver is nevertheless disappointed when he sits down to eat breakfast with his family. In the background, the television is reporting news on the latest developments in the war for water supply in the USA, followed by details on an ecological disaster that struck Europe last week. While Oliver listens to the weather and pollution broadcast, his personal agenda suddenly notifies him of his imminent medical appointment.

“Why wasn’t the appointment in the agenda earlier when I checked?” Oliver thinks while rushing to his car. Without reason, the vehicle does not open until he has approved a house and garden maintenance schedule for the next week, and a fertilizer order proposed by the lawn maintenance robot. Oliver simply approves.

He enters his autonomous car. The safety feature of the car enforces the legal speed limits. As the predicted arrival time would make Oliver late for the important health care appointment, he decides to override the assisted driving feature and to drive on his own. As he speeds up above the speed limit, this is detected by the other cars and reported to the local law enforcement authorities. This, together with the recent order of fertilizer (where the robot wrongly ordered a huge multiple of the required amount), recent social networking interactions by Oliver’s kids, and the recent booking of plane tickets for Mary triggers a “potential terrorist behavior” alert at the Agency for Ubiquitous Management of Life (UML). As a result, the UML system retrieves information about Oliver’s family, social acquaintances, and financial accounts. Orders to intercept Oliver and his family at the border as soon as possible are issued to relevant personnel in the Office of Crime and Liabilities (OCL). In addition, the UML system heightens the monitoring level of Oliver’s social contacts and financial accounts.

Monitoring of Oliver’s acquaintance Peter on a social network triggers another alert due to a wrong interpretation of his comments by the OCL’s autonomous surveillance data mining program. Both Peter and Oliver are taken into custody and held for the night before Mary is finally able to contact Oliver.

Last modified: November 23, 2015, Jörg Kienzle