By Bill Pullano
The latest innovation of Fifth Generation (5G) networking wireless connectivity will soon be mainstream. Some claim 5G will be revolutionary, making all of our lives better by enabling many of the formerly mundane objects found throughout our homes and apartments to seamlessly connect to the internet, further enhancing our world through the “Internet of Things.” Others express concerns over potential human health risks due to the radiation emitted by the many towers required for its deployment.
I know very little about the technical side of 5G or the potential health risks, but count me as skeptical as to its utility for most people. In order to be a true upgrade, any new invention or technology should make a meaningful improvement in the underlying process. That means increasing output, efficiency, or simplifying the activity in a noticeable way. Simply being able to access and control something through a smart phone or computer has very little impact on what the appliance will actually be able to do for us.
Apparently kitchen appliances should all be internet ready. Will a smart coffee maker eliminate the need for me to retrieve the coffee can and filter out of the cupboard, measure it out, and pour the water into the machine before my phone turns it on? Nearly all of the actual work involved in washing dishes with an automatic dishwasher involves loading and unloading the plates, bowls and utensils and adding the soap. Unless someone is in the habit of forgetting to push the start button after doing the rest of it (that’s all my “unenlightened” dishwasher requires unless you want to change anything from the previous run), I see very little value-add from being able to control this from my phone.
I thought perhaps the microwave oven held more promise, however while I have no doubt that Amazon Alexa will gladly talk to my “smart” microwave, I haven’t figured out how she is going to get the food in and out, or place said nourishment onto the appropriate tableware. That aside, I really don’t need to talk to the microwave to turn it on, or use my phone to do so, when I can accomplish the same thing by pushing a few buttons.
Alexa can be helpful with keeping the refrigerator full through automated ordering, but for this to really be life changing, she’d also have to make her own independent decisions about what to restock and when, not simply update my Whole Foods cart when I’m low on milk. It may suffice to put a wireless camera inside, so you can see what you are low on or missing, but anyone who really wants this could probably do it on an existing application; you don’t need your entire refrigerator connected to the internet. I also think I can live without real-time alerts emailed or texted to me when I’m low on dishwasher soap or laundry detergent.
Whether or not 5G carries new health risks is a matter we should continue to explore. There isn’t likely to be consensus on that for a long time. But as with any new (and overly-hyped) technology, it’s important to consider whether the 5G enabled Internet of Things will actually improve your life in a significant way, or just be another distraction that solves a problem you didn’t realize you had in the first place.