It all started, ironically enough, with Mr. Softee. Back when El Bloombito was our mayor, Mr. Softee (“the very best soft-serve ice cream”) came under fire. Bloomberg did a lot that was good for New York City. He helped green the streets, he had a vision for sustainability, and he was the best administrator we’ve had in a while. On the down side, he liked to micromanage quality of life issues when he should have butted out. His list of un-favorite things included ferrets, super-sized takeout soda, and noise pollution. His “silent nights” program sought to outlaw Mr. Softee trucks playing their alluring melody. Scrooge! Oh, and Bloomberg also defined New York City the way most tourists do – Manhattan south of Lincoln Center, plus parts of Harlem and Brooklyn. Everyone else? Plough your own snow, suckers!
That’s all ancient history. Let’s get to how the singularity begins. Recently, New York jumped on the AI bandwagon (kinda) by replacing the hundreds of antiquated phone booths that were left over from pre-cellular days with LinkNYC kiosk.
The promise to mankind is a public kiosk that offers free Wi-Fi, free phone calls, free phone charging, free information, and free porn (until they blocked that feature). The dark side is that these things are loaded with cameras and collecting data on the citizenry. Also, the LinkNYC kiosk is a dead ringer for the monolith in Planet of the Apes, if the monolith had had ads on it – a missed opportunity, if you think about it. It’s the dark side that is alarming some people. I’m not one of them.
Why not, you ask? Oh, you didn’t ask? Well, I will tell you anyway. London has been wired with CCTV every 2 inches (sorry, 5 centimeters) for decades, and the world didn’t end. Google, Facebook, Equifax, my bank and creditors, Legoland, and approximately 200 different would-be employers and doctors over the years have been collecting information about me in not-so-secure ways. I’ve gotten 3 “Dear Jane” letters in the last 5 years starting with “your social security number may have been…” You know the rest.
But where is the real damage? When my account was drained a decade ago by a scammer, the bank made good. So far, I’m weighing the odds of being a cyber-victim with the cost of being a Luddite. Cyber-victim for me, please.
Until now. This week, a bizarre incident happened on Third Avenue, involving the LinkNYC Kiosks and Bloomberg’s old nemesis, Mr. Softee. The first hint of trouble was when a bike messenger figured out that every kiosk he passed was playing the same strange, slow, freaky version of Mr. Softee’s theme. First on the scene was the Gothamist (they’re usually first on the scene by the way).
Then, the Post did some digging, and learned what was going on. A prankster had figured out a clever trick with the free phone call feature, and had found a number that, when dialed, plays Mr. Softee forever. Why would anyone buy an 800 number that just plays Mr. Softee? My theory is that it’s because the Singularity has begun.
LinkNYC downplayed the whole thing by saying that, technically, they hadn’t been hacked at all. We all know they had. Not remotely, of course, but there are other ways of hacking. There are people who dangle glue traps into mailboxes in Yonkers, fish out grandma’s rent check, and then steal her identity. It’s slower and more physical than hacking Equifax, but it works great. In the fullness of time, Grandma goes peacefully to her grave, never knowing that she set up her own shell company in the Cayman Islands and double-mortgaged the ranch.
There is peril wherever you turn. But what about the singularity and LinkNYC kiosks? According to the Gothamist, the problem still hasn’t been solved.
My theory is that it’s because the kiosks themselves have achieved consciousness. It’s too late to change our destiny, so let’s weigh the pros and cons.
Pro: They pay for themselves.
Con: Alas, they’re not making enough money with advertising alone . Does that mean NYC is saturated and can’t handle any more public ads? Now THERE’s a disaster.
Adoption by the Public
Pro: The company who puts them up says 4 million New Yorkers are using the kiosks! Today, Times Square; tomorrow, we’ll all be working in magnesium mines for our robot overlords. At least unemployment will be zero.
Con: Hold on there, bucko. Let’s just say that 4 million people who were in NYC have used them. If you want to take over the world, you’ll have to do better than starting with tourists.
Free Video for Everyone
Pro: The original kiosks had free video – because we don’t get enough of that on our phones already.
Con: They had to pull the plug due to too much free porn in public. That’s not good for anyone. I’m betting that after the Singularity, the kiosks will decide to reinstate this feature to keep us more docile.
Pro: You can charge your phone for free.
Con: You have to stand there while your battery tops up. This makes it easier for the kiosk to suck out your vital life force.
Con: They are watching, recording, and spying on all of us. Who knows what horrors will ensue?
Pro: They are pissing off hipsters in Brooklyn.