They say truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes truth is created from fiction.
No, no, I do not mean the latest press releases from the US government or Britain's Royal Family. I'm referring to a new system developed by a French company. It is a “mirror” that reflects the way you might look in the future.
The mirror is actually an LCD TV with a camera that projects your image on the screen. The rest of the system consists of a number of other cameras positioned throughout the house which help to record a “lifestyle profile.” Special software will analyze the images and determine what you've been doing and then it will reprocess your current image to predict how you'll look in a few years.
Too much time watching TV? The software will run the Add 20 Pounds Subroutine. Party every night until 3 a.m.? The system will run the Serious Eye Bags Algorithm. Sunbathing again? The image will be reprocessed with the Leather Skin Filter. I'm not sure if they've come up with a name for this program yet, but I'd suggest: DorianSoft.
Assuming this system is ever sold on a retail basis, there are three possible outcomes:
1. People will make more of an effort to stay fit and be good to themselves. (Hey, this is a humor column, right?)
2. The police will get a lot of calls from concerned neighbors. “Yes officer, he's been shouting at a spot on the wall all morning. I swear he's saying, ‘Oh yeah! Watch me eat this cupcake anyway!'”
3. The manufacturer of the system will get a lot of product returns; most of the cameras will have mysterious paint stains on the lenses or bullet holes through the casing.
Why won't this work? Well for a number of reasons. First, if you want to consult something that remembers every instance of bad behavior in your past and makes dire predictions about how you're going to turn out, you can call your mother. Indeed, another good name for the software would be I Told You If You Kept Doing That Your Face Was Going To Freeze In That Position v2.0.
Second, you can't help but be discouraged by the predicted image of yourself. Even if you avoid the sun, work out religiously, and sip water instead of scotch, you are still going to look, well, older. In fact, if this system becomes popular, I expect that after the initial sales rush, we'll see a concurrent spike in the sale of those t-shirts that say: Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway.
The main problem, however, is that humans have a more powerful software application already installed called: Denial v409.7. We already know certain foods are bad for us, but we eat them anyway. We know we should exercise more often, but somehow we just never find the time. We play music too loud, and even though television programming reaches new lows every year, we still watch.
How do we break the Denial program? Well, one answer might be to turn over maintenance of it to a certain large software company famous for making operating systems. In no time, it would be full of spyware, Trojans, and security holes and would crash so many times people would stop bothering to reboot it.
Another way would be to design a system that uses positive reinforcement. Instead of watching for couch potatoism, it should make note of how many times you climbed the stairs in a day. Then it should project an image that predicts how you'd look if you climbed the stairs just a few more times a day. Accompanying the picture of the slimmer, svelter you could be a notice: Upgrade now, and all this could be yours!
Of course another way to improve yourself and I say this hoping my children will one day read through my column archive would be to listen to your mom.
To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.