Word Distinction: “Smart” and “Intelligent” Part II

Today marks our final posting on the distinction between the words, “smart” and “intelligent.” It concludes with the second part of our interview with Daniel Tynan, a respected and prolific technology writer.

It’s been a fascinating topic, particularly when you consider the many innovations that marketers have labeled as either “smart” or “intelligent.”

Consider: Even the world of fashion is getting smart with solar-powered dresses right around the corner.

Abbey Liebman’s Solar Powered Dress

Even smart jeans are on the horizon.

Of course, to be really styling, you’ll need a smart watch to go along with it. That’s a reality.

Where will it end?

Even Dan wonders…

– – –

Do see a time when consumers will be buying “intelligent devices” and if so, what would they be?
I think you will have to consciously force yourself off the grid to avoid buying “intelligent” devices, and maybe go everywhere by bike, because just about everything will have intelligence built into it, from our household appliances to (yes) our toilets. The “smart phone” will cease being thought of as a phone, because making calls will be one of the least popular uses for it. Personal Communication or Personal Computing device is what they are and will be, until somebody comes up with a cooler name for them. Phones are going to replace our wallets for identification and payment purposes and our keys for entering houses or driving cars. We won’t need credit cards or insurance cards or frequent customer cards – it will all be on the phone. They will mostly serve as local authentication devices for the network, where the data lives, and be part of what defines who we are to the world outside.

There, is that Carl Sagan enough for you?

Tesco’s Virtual Supermarket in the Subway

Are marketers using these two words accurately?
Probably not.

IBM is a big user of the word, “smart.” It says, for instance, it’s building “A Smarter Planet.” It even labels this decade as the “Decade of Smart.” Is that just clever advertising or are we living in the “Decade of Smart?”
Smart is shorter and less intimidating than “intelligent.” There is a natural tendency for most Americans in particular to distrust the intelligentsia (I won’t get into the politics behind that), but everyone likes to see themselves as “smart.” Also, lots of scary science fiction about the machines becoming self-aware and deciding to rid themselves of those pesky humans. “Smart” devices sound more like Wall-E, less like The Terminator.

A Smarter Planet Billboard
(Credit: IBM)

Isn’t this kind of ironic? After all, we keep on hearing about the “Dumbing down of America”. The number of people getting college degrees is declining, for instance. What is it? Are we dumber, but the products we use smarter?
Dumb, dumber, and dumberest. Really, don’t get me started on the public education system in this country. We demand less and less of kids, and we get it. At the same time, the smartest of us are getting really really smart – so there’s an enormous and increasingly large gap between the Google geniuses and the folks stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart. But everyone has a smart phone.

Somebody (it may have been Bill Joy) once said that as technology gets more sophisticated it hides its complexity from the user. They probably said it better than that. Basically, as devices do more for us they appear to be more simple and easy to use, even if they aren’t simple at all under the hood. Steve Jobs understood that better than anybody; Microsoft may never really get it.

Are there other words on the technology horizon that we as consumers should start getting used to?
“An Internet of things.” That’s what all those connected devices are. The amount of traffic between devices communicating on our behalf without human intervention is expected to dwarf the data exchanged between living sentient beings, if it hasn’t already. I expect that phrase to leak out of geekerati use and into the mainstream in some fashion.

“Location porn.” I just made that up. But we now have the ability to locate anyone anywhere in the developed world, depending on the devices they are carrying and the networks they come in contact with. So the idea of just dialing up a location to see who’s there, or to stalk someone you barely know and find out exactly where they are in meatspace, so to speak, is a very real possibility. And of course, that also implies location exhibitionists – hence services like FourSquare.

I can get real Orwellian on you about privacy if you like  (it’s a thing I do) but that’s just what’s off the top of my head.

– – –

Thanks Dan for the lively conservation. Our blog has attracted a lot of smart and intelligent folks, but you have a way with words that we greatly admire. “Meatspace?” That’s a new one for us. Our next blog topic will be on the distinction between “organic” and “natural,” which have been becoming a growing part of our food vocabulary as people seek to eat in a more healthy fashion.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.


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