Objects with code

There are mechanical things like engines and vacuum cleaners, and there are electronic things like TV sets and smartphones. And then there are the cross-over things which used to be purely mechanical but are becoming ever more digital, like clocks and ovens.

One thing that is interesting about the digital things is that behind everything digital there is running code. The behavior of these things (or at least aspects of these things) is not determined by gears and motors and pumps and valves, but rather by a program that somebody wrote.

We tend to think of the code that runs a refrigerator or an oven or a dimmable lighting fixture as hidden. We know it’s there, but we assume we cannot access it.

As extended reality starts to become a ubiquitous part of our lives, that may change. We may be able to “open up” an appliance virtually and change its behavior. A screen will pop up in the air, we will make changes to what we see on that screen, and the physical object in our home will then behave differently.

That all probably sounds very nerdy and a little scary. But the reality is that what is on those virtual screens will end up being friendly and accessible, because that will be part of how the people who sell those items will get you to buy them.

If you really want to dive deeper into the behavior of an appliance, there will be an option for that. Just like today you can pop open the trunk of your car and access all the components in there — but only if you want to.

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