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RUTLEDGE: OK Google: Can you make my kids make their beds?


Saturday, April 15, 2017

The discussion on a recent radio program was about professions that can be automated and those that cannot. I was disappointed to hear that parenting teenagers was not among the jobs for which you can hire a robot.

Later that same day, another story in the news made me think that perhaps some aspects of parenting teenagers can be automated. Burger King — which puts a lot of teenagers to work — flipped a potential marketing sizzler a few days ago, but it hit the floor.

The fast-food chain tried to automate its advertising budget using the smart speaker, Google Home. Smart speakers are basically voice-activated computer apps that allow you to play music or answer questions without having to pull up a search engine on your computer or smart phone.

Marketers at Burger King picked up on reports of Google Home being activated by sounds from the TV that mimic the device’s keyword prompt, “OK Google.”

The 15-second commercial, presumably shot with a smartphone, is designed to be too short to describe Burger King’s famous Whopper hamburger. The teenager behind the counter simply asks, “OK Google: What is the Whopper burger?”

The idea was to have Google Home take over from there and read from the Wikipedia product description for the Whopper. Google got wind of the ploy, however, and quickly tweaked its smart speakers so they would not play along.

Burger King’s idea did not make me hungry for a Whopper, but it did leave me warmer to the notion of buying a smart speaker.

With three teenage daughters glued to their smartphones, the last thing we need in our house is more “smart” technology — unless that technology can be used as a counterweight.

My wife and I have discovered that the most effective way to convince our teenagers to clean their rooms and perform other housecleaning chores is to hold their smartphones hostage. It’s amazing how hard a kid will work to get back their phone.

The trouble is that we’re not always at home when the chores need to be done. When Sharon and I had to leave the house for a meeting right after supper one recent evening, we wagered with one another on the way home as to whether the girls had cleaned up the kitchen.

Sharon bet that the leftovers had at least been put away. I wagered that everything would be the same as we had left it two hours earlier.

I won.

I knew I would win, and I knew exactly what the girls would say when their mother asked, “Why didn’t one of you at least put away the leftovers?”

I knew I would hear those five, innocent little words: “You didn’t tell us to.”

To be fair, my parents had the same struggles, and their teenagers never had smartphones. So why, with today’s technology, must the struggle continue?

OK Google: Can you be programmed to override my kids’ smartphones with instructions for them to perform certain household chores? And can you shut down their devices until said chores are completed?

If the answer is yes, sign me up.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.