CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Gadgets I can definitely do without 

Christopher Stevens reviews last night’s TV: £850 for a plastic pig? This is one gadget I could definitely do without.

The secret genius of modern life

Classification: ****

Brian Cox: How the Other Half Lives

Classification: **

Scientists are like three-year-olds with an overwhelming urge to squeeze their heads through a narrow fence rail.

Just because they are able to do it doesn’t make it a good idea.

Even Professor Hannah Fry, a fervent advocate of all things science, is skeptical about the advisability of some technologies in her six-part series The Secret Genius Of Modern Life (BBC2).

Even Professor Hannah Fry, a passionate advocate for all things science, is skeptical about the advisability of some technologies.

Even Professor Hannah Fry, a passionate advocate for all things science, is skeptical about the advisability of some technologies.

The professor seemed clearly skeptical about the benefits of Amazon’s ‘digital assistant’ Alexa, the mini football that sits on a shelf and listens to our every word.

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A top geek at Amazon HQ assured him that Alexa only pays attention when he hears her name – the ‘whack word’. Professor Hanna is not convinced and makes it a point not to tell us if there really is someone in his own house.

‘It’s the technology that leads the way,’ he warned, ‘and only later does society ask the question if this is what we really want in our lives.’

She looked less than relieved when an Amazon boffin excitedly told her he had programmed a synthesizer to imitate her voice. By feeding her about two and a half minutes of recorded speech, he taught the machine to mimic her tone and delivery.

Amazon Astro is currently on limited sale in the US for around £850 (invite customers only).

Amazon Astro is currently on limited sale in the US for around £850 (invite customers only).

‘Deep Fake’ Hannah Dame looked like Edna Everage. I don’t think impressionist Rory Bremner needs to worry about his job right now.

The professor was more than happy to trace the history of these innovations, with archival clips of devices like Wooder – a speech robot demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. A stenographer sat at a steam-powered computer and pressed levers as if changing railway points in a signalman’s box. Behind him, a speaker boomed from the mouth of a giant plywood face. It didn’t catch on.

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Neither does Amazon Astro, I suspect. It is currently on limited sale in the US (to invited customers only) for around £850.

Billed as ‘Alexa on wheels’, it has a plastic pig-like touchscreen for face and body. A camera on a retractable stalk protrudes from its head, like a unicorn made in Taiwan.

Astro trundles around the house, keeping an eye on things. It can’t climb stairs, which is probably a good thing, because I have a lot of trouble trying not to trip over the cat. I don’t even need an Amazon killer trying to break my neck.

Gadgets like the Astro are a symbol of a society with too much technology and not enough intelligence, a problem that led actor Brian Cox to mournful mistrust in How The Other Half Live (C5). .

Brian’s face is permanently broken, like a shirt that’s been at the bottom of a laundry basket for a month. It’s hard to tell when they’re happy, but they certainly weren’t the happiest when they met 21-year-old Polish-born model Karolina in Miami. Karolina is an ‘influencer’, posing by swimming pools for fans on social media.

Greeting Brian at the beach villa, she explains that she doesn’t own the place, but has rented it for a day to learn about his lifestyle after Googling it. .

Brian began to explain that he wasn’t billionaire media mogul Logan Roy, he just played his part in the succession. Karolina shrugged. According to him, the truth is what it says on the Internet.

After working in a soup kitchen for the homeless, Brian concludes with a plea to ‘stop loading the dice in favor of the rich’.

That’s what Logan Roy calls ‘fatuous f*****g leftie luvvie bulls**t’.

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