Robot or Not? #262 June 12, 2023


If any device can open a door, is every device a key?

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John, Lister Gabriel wrote into, which is the right place to do this, and said, “What is a key? Is a tag that opens my house door is a key? The app that unlocks the door of my building is a key? Or just those pieces of metal are considered keys? What makes something a key?”

Yeah, so the things with the, like the little, you know, a card or using your phone or stuff like that, right now, in 2023, whenever we refer to those things as a key, what we really mean is, this object acts as a key for your door. You can use your phone as the key for your door. You can use this card as the key to get into your hotel room or whatever, right? But it is some other thing, performing the function of a key, but if you were to put the object on a table and say, “What is this?” That’s a phone, that’s a card, right? Or maybe they would say that’s a key card, but still it is not a key. This distinction may disappear in 50 to 100 years, but for now, keys are keys. Now, there’s metaphorical keys, like this is the key to the thing you’re doing, or like you could have a key to like a drill bit to loosen and tighten the drill bit, which is a totally different kind of key.

And there’s like key to the city, or one of those, I think the pieces of metal, like you get a church key to open a can of beer or something like, there are other kinds of key-like things.

Right, but those are different. Well, the key to the city is a metaphorical key. It doesn’t actually open the city, right? But that’s the kind of key we’re talking about, but the key for opening a can or whatever, like that is a different thing. The drill bit key is a different thing. Your roller skate key, a different thing. But for the door key with the little pins and the little jagged edge and all that stuff, and however it’s done, like, only the metal, the thing that goes into a slot that you turn to open something, whether it’s the old-fashioned looking one with the two big buck teeth hanging down from a rod, or a more modern one with jaggy things, or an even more modern one with laser-cut things in the sides, those are keys. And then the things we use to perform that function that are not keys, they’re acting as keys. So your phone acts as a key, the card acts as a key, whatever.

You said it would be a little while. I don’t know, I feel like this may get away from us real fast.

No, the problem is the metal keys are gonna be around for so long that they’re gonna hold onto that pretty doggedly.

I mean, you think about it like a phone, ‘cause a smartphone kind of is barely a phone at this point. That name has come to mean something else pretty fast. I feel like if we, it depends on how this technology is taken up, but how long before every key card and every digital key that’s on your phone and your wrist and all of that, and is sending out messages, I would not underestimate our ability to make them all, just start calling them all keys. Like, I’ve got, the key is on my phone, my phone is the key.

You can still call it that, but I still feel like, again, if you put the object on the table, it would just look like a plastic card or it would just look like your phone. The phone is a great example because that’s always gonna be your phone, even though your phone acts as a key, and maybe someday you buy a car and that’s literally the only way to open and close it and drive it is with your phone, but it’s still a phone, it’s not a key, right? It is acting as a key.

Right, and a key card, if you lay them all on the table, you’d say phone, card, watch.

Plastic card, whatever, yeah.

Key. As objects.

Even the remote entry things which we’ve had for years and years, people still call them key fobs. They call them keys for short, but when you need to get one replaced at ridiculous expense at the car dealer, it’s, you know, key fob.

All right, well, I hope Gabriel is satisfied with that answer.