Saturday, October 17, 2009

Of Air Conditioners and Leading Economic Indicators

Yesterday, I went to work early. The AC installers showed up early in the morning, and between having no AC in the house and construction noise, I decided that the office looked pretty good. I put on my work clothes and fled the house.

How wonderful to return home to cool air! We've had 15 consecutive days of highs in the 90's, with some of those days giving us record-breaking heat (94 degrees in Miami yesterday). When people used to ask me to tell what I thought the most important invention of the 20th century was, I would say, "The birth control pill. Or maybe penicillin." After the last few days, I might nominate air conditioning. I certainly don't understand how people lived down here before air conditioning (unless they spent summers elsewhere; six months of the year we have quite pleasant, mild weather down here).

Here's what I don't understand. The last time we bought an AC/heat system for a house was in 1994. The cost was the same in 1994 as we paid yesterday. There are probably some variations that I'm not calculating in, such as the electric company rebate and the programmable thermostat, which we didn't have in 1994. But still, how can the price be so similar? Is it because we're importing AC/heat units from China, and so therefore, the cost stays down? Is it because we're in an economic downturn now, so my AC company was desperate to sell me a unit? Is it because we've had fairly low rates of inflation during the past 15 years?

Last night, I read the owner's manual that came with the programmable thermostat, and I came across this sentence: "Adaptive Intelligent Recovery . . . allows the thermostat to 'learn' how long your furnace and air conditioner take to reach the temperature you want." I felt both touched and a bit freaked out--this idea that my appliances are learning about each other (cue music: "Getting to Know You").

My poetry brain is already at work with this idea.

I also return to the thoughts I heard long ago on an NPR program. Famous philosopher Daniel Dennett was on a program to talk about Artificial Intelligence. He said that he thinks that silicon based life forms (like computers) are eclipsing carbon based life forms (like you and me). Further, he said that computers are using humans to assist in the evolution of computers. The part of me that loves sci-fi was intrigued, and continues to be intrigued. The part of me that doesn't understand machines was horrified at the thought of enabling them to take over the world and enslave us.

I guess I shouldn't worry too much just because my thermostat is intelligent enough to sense the heating and cooling patterns of my AC/heat unit--still, it suggests to me that a brave new world is underway.

2 comments:

Jonson said...

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Kristin said...

Thanks for your kind words and encouragement!