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Has smart tech gone silly?

smart home

From salt shakers that play music and emit mood lighting to a hob that can tell you when to flip your pancake or add veg to your dish – is the next generation of smart products totally unnecessary?

There’s a strong argument that the desktop PC is the greatest invention in mankind’s history, barring perhaps fire, the printing press and the machine that injects caramel into the middle of biscuit bars.

Before the computer, tasks such as writing letters, calculating sums, organising a schedule and keeping atop of your personal finances all had to be done by hand. Computers are essentially a thousand ‘dumb’ technologies ‘smartened’ up and rolled into one.

And I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that the smartphone is a pretty big deal, too. No more memorising numbers, forgetting when to call people, or being tethered to a landline – or even a cellular signal of any sort. The telephone as it was known 50 years ago is all but obsolete, and, to my mind, that’s a good thing.

But does everything need to be smartened up? Cars will be the next to take the plunge, with fully automated self-driving models to become mainstream in the next 10 years or so. Safety is paramount, but there’s no denying that the pleasure (and skill) of driving will be lost when the big switchover comes. It’s a mixed bag, for sure, although an understandable and inevitable change.

But what about your kitchen hob? Or a salt shaker. Ever felt the need for those to be computer-integrated? If you’re one of the few people inexplicably nodding your head then I have some excellent news for you. If you’re sat in bemusement, I’m afraid you might not like what’s about to come.

Silly seasoning?

SMALT’ is the ‘world’s first interactive centrepiece and smart salt dispenser’. That is to say, it’s a robotic salt shaker that you can control via an app on your smartphone or with Amazon Echo. It also functions as a Bluetooth speaker and emits mood lighting, too. And, we should stress, it’s 100% real. Oh, and it can’t actually grind salt.

The idea is that by using the app rather than haphazardly sprinkling salt all over your meal it can help monitor your salt intake. You can choose how much it administers, such as a ‘pinch’ or ‘shake’, or even a precise measurement if you’re the sort who knows to what degree their meal should be seasoned.

I should emphasise, once again, that SMALT can’t actually grind salt. You simply load your regular table salt in to it and make do. ‘Shaker’ may be something of a misnomer as well, as it’s actually unclear as to whether or not you can even use it as a rudimentary manual dispenser should its rechargeable battery run out.

Then there’s the slightly (and only slightly) less ridiculous Tasty One Top. It’s a smart induction hob that sits atop your kitchen counter and connects with a recipe app to ensure that temperature, power and cooking time are adjusted automatically to give you the perfect meal every time. It’s made by monolithic content-aggregating website BuzzFeed.

The future is now, ladies and gentlemen. The only question is: does it actually have anything useful to offer?

Have you spotted any smart tech that borders on the ridiculous? Or do think more products should be smart? What smart gadget would you invent to make your life easier?


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Silly – perhaps not.

Superfluous – certainly.

Of course it has ! Manufacturers need gimmicks to sell things so keep coming up with new ones to tempt fools with more money than sense to buy unnecessary things and the fool’s always do they buy things they do not need just to say they have the latest thing ????

I think the technical term for “fools with more money than sense to buy unnecessary things” is “consumers” 😉


If we’re talking about the world’s greatest inventions I’d probably start with the Wheel, although it did need someone to invent a flat surface to go with it (not many wheels in nature). The Lever probably qualifies, too, without which we’d almost certainly not have had the Henges, Pyramids or any other large constructions. That brings in the Pulley system, then we have building done. Oh – and I nearly forgot the Nail.

Not sure Fire qualifies as an invention as such, since it was probably more of an unhappy accident of nature. But you could argue the same for the lever, I suppose. Or not. Rambling mode on

The magnetic Compass and Glass were, however, and when they invented lenses it really made a huge difference to the world’s greatest minds. Helped them create Gunpowder, which is probably up there as one of the greatest.

But we’ve moved into an era when the anticipation of untold wealth is leading to inventions in search of a purpose. Some hit it lucky, like the inventor of the humble Zip – Gideon Sundback. And the paper clip was very useful at one point in time.

Living in an area with no mobile signals whatsoever (that’s mountains for you) I don’t see the mobile ‘phone as a great invention; in fact, rather intrusive and, for many people, rather tying.

But I would place the harnessing of electricity as one of the greatest things the human race has achieved. It gives rise to something new almost every minute of every day, including the annoying mobile ‘phone ring tones that exert a mysterious force on their owners to suddenly start speaking VERY LOUDLY on quiet train carriages.

But the greatest invention? How about the internet?

Interesting topic.

“But the greatest invention? How about the internet?”

How about agriculture?

Not sure whether growing stuff can strictly be classed as an ‘invention’, Derek. More of an evolution, I suspect. People gradually became better at increasing crop yields and managing animals and crops. Now – the Tractor and Combine: they were inventions.

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I think agriculture – plant and animal breeding – can be seen as a great invention that allowed the human race to expand. We aren’t on our own though; leafcutter ants cultivate fungus. Perhaps a good job they haven’t yet got round to inventing the wheel and computers.

More of an evolved discovery than an invention, I think. Pedantic, I know…

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Indeed; the invention was the wheel itself. Although I imagine axles followed pretty swiftly, if not almost simultaneously.

I think an invention – at least, in the sense in which we’re discussing it here – has to be something never seen before. That’s why I don’t think fire was an invention. It certainly led to a lot, but it was more of a discovery. Harnessing it, however, as in something like a Bessemer converter for instance, was an invention.

“There’s a strong argument that the desktop PC is the greatest invention in mankind’s history” ???

Ok Callum, assuming that is so, please would you summarise it for us, with supporting evidence, ideally in no more than six sentences?

As I have mentioned before, I am not an early adopter of technology but I enjoy playing with new toys when visiting friends and family. Behind the pointless gadget, there may be worthwhile ingenuity that could prove useful for more serious purposes. Time will tell, but today’s popular products were probably ridiculed.

When I think of silly tech, I remember the Binatone toilet roll holder that incorporated a radio, which I spotted in a magazine back in the late 60s or early 70s.. I never saw one but if anyone bought one it may now be collectible. A modern version might communicate wirelessly with a store cupboard and if appropriate, add toilet rolls to the online shopping list.

Surely, a modern version of the toilet roll would incorporate an automated Amazon Andrex* Dash button and place the order for you. (I wonder if Amazon Prime drivers will install?)

* Other brands of toilet paper available – this is just an illustration of where we are going.

Christmas and birthdays are popular times for giving and receiving presents that the recipient may think are a bit silly.

When moving home I found something grandly called “The Ultimate Relaxation Cushion, with sound therapy”. “Use as a massaging neck support or simply lie back and relax with the sounds of nature.” It had been consigned to the back of a cupboard after removing the batteries, which were put to good use. It had been a Christmas present from one of my neighbours. I wonder if Boots would like it back.

Another Christmas present from the same neighbours was a Science Museum coin sorter. My initial impression was that it was another unnecessary bit of junk, but my view changed when it was my turn to deal with all the change collected at charity events. First impressions can sometimes be wrong.

Agreed – I could not understand the appeal of gadgets like Amazon Echo given that I’ve never even used (or seen the point of) Siri on my phone, however having seen the way others have used it and the ways it’s come in handy for them, I’m beginning to see the appeal! Still not something I can see myself buying any time soon, but isn’t it funny how easy it is to buy into these ‘must have’ products…

If they sell, then the gadgets will make money for their makers and inventors, if not it is either because the public have no money to splash on such items, or they are seen to be unnecessary to their life styles. I would be sad if manufacturers wasted raw materials and labour on making silly gadgets that no one wanted. It is the classic create a need and sell the solution syndrome. I wonder how many folk sprinkle powder on their carpets in order to vacuum it up again? How many of us buy an additional stain remover because they don’t believe that their washing powder works any more? How many of the two major voice activated house systems are in use, controlling entertainment, doing the shopping and eves dropping?
I had a short story somewhere, I forget the author, where the utopian city gradually crumbles and things begin to malfunction. Eventually someone discovers a new, natural life in the deserted countryside and the first beginnings of a simple existence commence as the city self destructs.

In a discussion about washing machines we were told that some people avoid biological washing powder (no enzymes) but add stain remover (Vanish?) which contains enzymes.

I may be guilty of this… 🙄

Thinking about the way modern technology has gone, I wonder if a similar process took place when the wheel was first invented?
“Okay – the round one seems fine. Hows about we try this octagonal shape now? Save things rolling off on their own.”
“Triangle would do that better”.
“Oh, yeah…”

The challenge is to design wheels that change their shape from circular to triangular. Impressive but maybe not silly.

I seem to recall there is a micro-organism that has wheels.

Maglev is the future.

I’m not quite sure what you mean Ian, but the rotation of flagella and the bacterial growth cycle are well known.


Some organisms such as The Pangolin, Manis temminckii, use rolling back as a means of locomotion, effectively turning themselves into a wheel but apparently this does not constitute the use of a wheel as the organism doesn’t employ separate parts which rotate independently.

http://www.en.m.wikipedia.com – Rotating locomotion in living systems, has a lovely illustrated model of the bacterial flagellum.

Wheels require bearings to work well. I don’t know if nature has created anything that resembles a roller or ball bearing – has it? It seems to stick at cartilage. Perhaps if we had self aligning bearings in our knees and hips they might last longer. And if the creator had thought about spares and repairabilty…….. Some animals can grow another limb; why were we left out?

I’ve only replied to comments, and then happened to lookeat the heading. “mart-tech-gone-mad-smalt-salt-shaker-tasty-one-top-induction-hob-buzzfeed”. Perhaps this is why Convos often go off topic? What have wheels got to do with this topic? To the Lobby…….:-)

“Ok, if you’re so clever, you tell us what colour it should be.” 😉 😀 🙂

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For my money, VR will be seen as silly tech for quite some time to come. I can’t see the majority of households getting behind the idea of this very individual form of entertainment any time soon. Google Glass was deemed too silly for these times by its own manufacturer but then Snap released their own glasses (https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/snapchat-spectacles-camera-photo-video/). Now Google Glass is making a comeback (http://fortune.com/2017/07/18/alphabet-google-glass-comeback/). For me, I was relieved to have moved into my new flat to find a cooker that has three settings (defrost, grill, fan oven) and a temperature dial. Anything else is the epitome of silly tech.

Where I suspect VR will score will be in the ER field – Enhanced Reality. Thinking about your cooker, wearing some form of Googly glasses that were able to overlay the setting controls on your appliance and then allow you to adjust them, simply by touching their virtual presence could be rather nice. Bit like HUDs in aircraft but with interactional aspects .

I looked up the ‘SMALT’ smart salt dispenser mentioned by Dean and it isn’t even available yet.

I used to have a salt and pepper grinder where the top was turned one way for salt and the other for pepper. The simple mechanism could be seen through the transparent plastic, making it of educational value.

Can smart tech tell you when you’re hungry as well?

There might be a possibility if it can listen to your stomach rumbling.

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The intelligent hob is a worthwhile idea. I have been looking for a kitchen timer that can be programmed for w series of unequal intervals to prompt the start of different elements in a recipe, but haven’t found one yet. This hob appears to do just that, as well as doing the cooking



Hi, Paul:-) Thanks for sorting out the synchronization issue.

You’re welcome, Ian.

We are at that stage of technologies were innovation has reached its plateau.
So we are now in the phase of what we would call doing for doings sake.
That is instead of innovation to tackle problems, it has become ideas for ideas sale and we do something because we can irrespective of need. When this happens designers generate something, then invent a fictitious need to convince us it’s development and we must need it because they say so.

Its just like the brand advert gurus putting the word digital in front of a device, so it must be better than before. But think of this
Is a digital pen or digital iron any better at doings it’s job.
This happened before when electronic was put in front of everything.

So let’s get back to invention and innovation to solve problems and stop generating stuff for stuffs sake.

Innovation will never plateau. It builds on experience and new discoveries. We never stand still.

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I see the SMALT mentioned by Callum in his introduction is still not available. What a surprise.

Within the all-singing-all-dancing market for technological based products the one automatic task that does not seem to be available is something to do the ironing. This was almost promised to be available in 2014 but it is now 2017 and not yet in the shops – not even in Harrods or John Lewis! I do remember having seen at least two predictions regarding futuristic dates for such a machine but never has anything materialized.

It is not as if there is not a market. I can see high tech enriched Californians coughing up at least $30,000 to be seen by their friends to have an automatic ironing machine in their beach residence or even one in their beach hut. In due course the price would fall such that we may 5 years later have them in Britain for £10,000 (cheaper if you purchase one out side of Rip-Off-Britain of course).

As for technological based products I do remember when Japan was the world leader in this, and a Japanese company produced a TV set with a voice that said you were sitting too near the screen, and this seemed to be the start of daft technology but the shape of things to come. The magazine for scientists and technologists named “New Scientist” produced a carton around 30 years ago whereby a high-tech toilet or bog monitored the condition of ones stools. The cartoon predicted fully kitted up paramedics rushing round to the abode of a high-tech bog because a signal was picked up over the network that something must be seriously wrong with the user, only be told by another person in the household that he had just had a strong take-away curry last night!

How about one of these? https://foldimate.com

Not available until 2018. Then you can pre-order. Plenty of time to get on with the ironing in the meantime. 🙁

An Effie rival? http://helloeffie.com/ Not sure I’d be happy to spend $850 on it. I think I’ll continue to do it myself for now…