We live in an age when arranged marriages have, like seeking a grandparent’s advice, gone the way of eating leftovers—passé. We meet our lifelong-partners by way of tongue-in-cheek (figuratively, of course) online dating. Our courtships consist of ordering flowers from phone touchscreens and selecting a pro-forma love note. We pull up curbside to retrieve online orders of coffee or pizza or, well, whatever; and our wedding ceremony is considered trendy and inclusive because it is conducted via Skype. So what comes next for the elderly, after children, grandchildren, menopause, andropause (yes, it is a word now), and hit-the-pause are no longer options, and the technology around us is flying by too fast to follow?
The word “technology” is derived from the Greek word for “art, craft” (techne) and the word for “Word, speech” (logos). One might think, then, that technology would broaden rather than narrow that age-old art of speaking. The fib, for example, was big business in bygone days. We laced every form of commerce, fashion statement, and threat of war across international borders by first pressing a half-truth, fib, button. Then there are new words, added to our vocabulary at breakneck speed. Dozens of words beginning with “self-” for example, were added to the Oxford lexicon over the past year alone—think self-driving, self-checkout, self-massage, and you have the idea.
What will technology do with our friend, the familiar fib, which we welcome with a wink. We call our little fibs white-lies, little inventions to teach the young, fairy tales to ease the pain of life’s shots, and stretched in long-form we preserve these yarns like jam and pickled herring. Our elderly population, the sage silver-hairs of our vast country have become scholars of the innocent fib, and for good reason. They have much to teach closed minds, so on occasion they might embellish, extemporize, theorize, and prophesy. The fib is necessary because almost nobody believes the unvarnished truth. A little shine to the facts will ease the punch of harsh reality almost every time.
The word Fib which we connect with the tender thwarting of facts to help the young is, interestingly, a “third-person present” verb, an unimportant lie. But what of the third-person? Who exactly fills that role, or better yet, who will fill that role in the future? There was a time when the third person to Grandpa’s little fib was Grandma. “Don’t believe a word he says,” she would say with a grin and giggle, followed by a hug and cookie. We all know those days are few and far between now.
With Grandparents reduced in the esteem of so many, who will act as third-person and watch out for the elderly’s educational fib?
Fortunately, we already have an answer to the question. There is little doubt that in the very near future our elders will be cared for, and constrained with good intention by robots. This makes sense, given the misconception that old people who have already been “self-ing” it for the greater part of their lives don’t need a human handhold. Certainly, too, staff shortages justify the cost-saving emplacement of cute little bobbles of technology in elder care homes like those UK’s Express magazine on May 13, 2018.
We must remember, though, that like an old milk stool, it takes three legs to squeeze the teat—no, I’m not pulling your leg—and this is not a fib. So, what are the other two legs of technology that will finally put an end to elder-fibbing?
The second leg of technology will be built into the care-bots, that of lie detection. When lies are detected from eye movements and voice deviations, a capability easily added to these harmless little nursing home ‘bots, their presence will undoubtedly chill dangling blue toes and stifle the crumpled lips that launch fibs before they sprout their fairly-like wings.
The final third leg of that poor wooden stool is that of facial recognition. We know that robots are already capable of facial recognition just as sensors around our great cities track our whereabouts from our faces alone.
In the end, it appears that the road to eliminate the age-old fib is paved with good intentions. The arts of speech (technology), of lie detection, and of facial recognition have well-intended applications, standing alone. They all begin as help-mates to some greater good. Technology began its ascent with the advent of fire, or maybe before if you count whittling spears. And the bigger sort of fib was disregarded long ago, “You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.”
The question remains, whether there is anything to be lost when we apply combined technologies to self-sacrificing individuals whose only hope is to love with a fib. When robots are appended to us by facial recognition, detect lies from our tears and voices, and speak with the universal language of tisk, tisk, tisk whenever they hear a lie, will we miss the true fib?