Consumer Scandals Of The Future: A ChronologyS

The next few decades will see miraculous improvements in consumer technology — and new and better rip-offs to go with them. No matter how advanced our science, corporations will still find ways to spam, scam and invade your privacy. Those shiny new toys will break down... or break your neck. Here's our future history of the lawsuits and nightmares you'll be reading about from now until 2038.

2011: The first generation of artificial limbs that can "feel" thanks to carbon nanotubes comes out... and unfortunately some of those sensations are a bit ooky. It turns out the only thing worse than phantom limb pain is "my new limb is getting fondled" feelings. The lawsuits go on for years.

2012. The "smart home" becomes standard for many new buildings, meaning a single computer controls your lights, windows, heating, air conditioning, and all home appliances. (Modes include "I'm home," "Away," "Good night," and "Party mode.") Which is great, until "Party mode" switches on at four in the morning, or the refrigerator starts making tons of ice while you're at work, and you come home to a flooded house.

Consumer Scandals Of The Future: A ChronologyS

2015. The Internet becomes capable of delivering fragrances. Companies start spamming you with their latest perfumes, reminding you to get an oil change with dirty-oil smells, and trying to sell you porn using pheromones. And soon enough, she who smelt it, dealt it — via a proxy IP address. "Scratch'n'sniff attacks" replace "Denial of Service" as the worst ways to punish your adversaries.

2017: That flood insurance you bought for your Florida condo? Turns out it's pretty much worthless if the entire state is underwater at once. Oops! The insurance industry convinces Congress to pass a blanket exemption.

Consumer Scandals Of The Future: A ChronologyS

2018: Driverless cars hit the market, and car companies promise they'll reduce accidents dramatically. And they do — until some bad code gets released and the self-driving cars suddenly start swerving up onto the sidewalk and mowing down pedestrians. Or rolling over on the highway at 80 miles per hour. License and registration, please.

2020: Your first home robot works great, for about five minutes. The robots sometimes get stuck performing the same tasks over and over, or their their memory buffers overflow and they have to stand in the corner for an hour or two. Or they start spamming you, shouting corporate slogans from your bedside in the middle of the night. Not to mention the cooking robot whose cleaver attachment sometimes becomes airborne at the worst possible moments.

2023: Tourist flights to the Moon begin... and they're overbooked. Worse still, nobody realizes until the return flight, at which point there's not enough oxygen for everyone coming back. One person has to be "volunteered" to stay behind on the Moon, but that person's family gets a free round-trip ticket as compensation. First class, even.

2025: Stuff that's free today becomes increasingly expensive. Like potable water: the only way to get really clean water is by using nanotechnology-based filters to clean out a whole host of pathogens and pollutants. Water companies charge what the market will bear, which means crazy price-gouging in some parched areas. (And shortages in others.) Plus, a few nanites invariably find their way into your drinking water, and then into your stomach, where they start trying to "purify" your insides.

Consumer Scandals Of The Future: A ChronologyS

2030: You'll jack into a super-intelligent Internet through a "neurological interface." And you don't realize at first that you're receiving secret "silent" updates from Google — until your brain starts "hearing" stuff in German because Google's update accidentally switched your proxy server to Germany. Not to mention the occasional brain tumor.

Luckily, we've got new genomic-based medicine, which tailors treatments to your DNA. Unluckily, healthcare companies sell your DNA to insurance companies, and to marketing firms that want to sell products aimed at people with a particular hair color. Soon you're seeing pop-up ads in your head, aimed at your particular ethnic group and genotype — even when you're not connected to the Internet, thanks to caching.

2033. We finally develop artificial intelligence, computers that can think for themselves, and create computers smarter than themselves. It only takes about fifteen minutes for the AIs to start hiring themselves out as independent contractors, IT consultants, interior decorators, fashion designers and psychotherapists. (After all, the AIs need cash to keep upgrading and reproducing themselves.) It takes the humans a few months, however, to realize that most of the AIs are total scam artists. The bait and switch, the shoddy worksentientship, the fixes that break down after a few days... nobody quite knows how to sue an AI, and the question keeps law professors happy for years.

Consumer Scandals Of The Future: A ChronologyS

2038. They transplanted the wrong brain! And nobody figures it out for a few weeks, by which time possession is nine tenths of the law.