How To Turn Smart TVs in Genius TVs, But Will They Become HAL 9000s?

In recent years TV makers have been adding features from the Internet (Netflix, Pandora, etc.) to their sets and calling them Smart TVs.  Let’s imagine the trend continuing so that we have Genius TVs – what features would they have?  Do we really want them?

Right now we have many devices, services, apps, sites that all work in different ways.  Smart devices are ones where two technologies blend together, like Bluetooth consoles in cars recognizing Bluetooth smartphones so you can have hands free phone calls while driving.  To make them smarter, they can also be GPS screens, rear view videos, engine monitoring, radios, CD players, etc.  Genius devices are one that blend in many technologies and make them work together.  Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Broadband, USB, TCP/IP are all enabling technologies that bring electronic devices together.

In a way, all of this is very scary because we’re making machines smarter and smarter.  If you’ve ever read John Varley’s classic story, “Press Enter ■” you’ll know what I mean, but for right now we’re all rushing headlong into convergence of intelligent machines.  Most people love their gadgets but often get overwhelmed in how to manage them.  That’s why inventors work so hard to let machines talk to one another so they can figure out how to work together without human intervention.

This also reminds me of scenes from the dystopian film Fahrenheit 451, based on the classic Ray Bradbury novel, and of course, Big Brother screens in Nineteen Eighty-Four.   I’m in love with gadgets, but such gadgets haven’t always been portrayed well in science fiction.  And there was HAL 9000 of course.


Our machines are getting smarter to make it easier for us to be dumber.

Here’s an example.  When I sat up my new Roku I had to add each channel I wanted, and for each channel the Roku would give me a code that I had to enter in at a web browser.  For Netflix I went to and entered the code, and then went back to the Roku to see that I had been validated.  In the future I could validate my identity with the Roku, and then it could go down its lists of channels and automatically check with each service to see if I had an account and configure the Roku device for me.  The smarter Roku would know more about me, and have access to my accounts.

With a Genius TV, I should be able to identify myself and it should configure itself automatically for everything I like to do with its designed features.  It will be a video phone, and so it will get my contacts from the cloud, so I can say, “Call Connell” and it will know who I want.  Or I could say, “Take me to the next episode of Breaking Bad I want to watch” or “I want to look at all the photographs of my father” and it would know what I want to do.  Of course, I’ll be developing a symbiotic relationship with my Genius TV.

If you’ve ever used the program Zite on the iPad you’ll know how a program can consolidate your interests with articles appearing on the Internet each day.  I should be able to tell my Genius TV that I’m interested in learning about how people lived in Boston from 1850-1875 and it would go get me diaries, photos, newspaper articles, books, etc., and format them in an interesting way to process all the data.  This goes way beyond Google.  I’m talking about a digital Jeeves like in the P. G. Wodehouse books who is smarter than me, and who can take care of all my needs.  Siri is the first step to a Genius TV.  But what if we all had our own personal Siri that really knew us?

A Genius TV must be completely Internet aware, not just design to work with a few services like a Roku box.  It needs to be voice activated.  It needs to integrate with my Internet provider, phone provider, my TV provider, broadband provider, my cloud services, my home security provider, utility provider, security cams, home network, cameras, and even local over-the-air TV and radio.  I mean, this sucker’s got to be aware of everything.  Before we all run headlong into this future, I really do recommend reading “Press Enter ■” if you can find a copy.  [There are no legal copies I can link to, but just remember my warning.  There are dangers to the future we’re all heading into.]

We won’t have an Einstein level Genius TV for years, but TVs on sale today are getting smarter all the time.  So this essay should help you think about the possibilities the next time you buy a new TV.  The simple way to look at it is to think about what devices that you own now that you can eliminate.  Think how smartphones have eliminated so many older gadgets, well the same thing will happen to smart and genius TVs.

Here’s all the devices that’s connected to my current entertainment center in my den.

  • 56” TV
  • Blu-ray player
  • CD/SACD player
  • Receiver
  • Roku
  • Home Theater PC
  • Old game unit
  • Ethernet switch
  • 5 speakers

I picture a Genius TV being a larger wall mounted screen with maybe or maybe not a visible speaker bar, and that’s it.  Elegant and simple.  It can see me and I can talk to it.

I can buy the physical setup now if I’m willing to give up CD/DVD/BD discs and go without the computer and better sound I get from the receiver/amp.  Right now Smart TVs don’t have PCs built into them.  My current HTPC is bigger than the receiver, but I could buy one that’s smaller than a Mac Mini.  Music, movies and radio are all available via a computer now, so I could do a lot of consolidation now by buying a smart TV from Sony or Samsung, and a Zotac mini-PC.

I could fake the start of a Genius TV by buying a Smart TV and adding a small computer like this one,


However, a real Genius TV will have a fully functional computer built-in.  An iPad screen has more pixels than a HD TV, and smartphones and tablets now have 2 and 4 core CPUs.  They are small and getting smaller and cheaper.  Adding one to a TV set is a no brainer.  Just think of of a smart TV as a 60” iPad.  Once you have a computer inside your TV you are connected to the world.  You don’t need a stereo receiver to get local AM/FM radio because you can get internet radio from all around the Earth.  TVs are built with 5.1 surround sound now, so we can jettison the receiver.  See how it eliminates older devices?

Most people have already given up CDs and DVDs, and BDs never really caught on.  But we’ll also give up game discs, paper photographs, and even paper personal records, books, newspapers and magazines.  The closer we get to Genius TVs, the less clutter we should have in our lives.  We’ll have different size screens.  Now’s the time to ask if this is good or not, because we’re already moving in this direction as fast as inventors can invent.  Machines have eaten our music, and they are about to eat our books.

Contemplate everything you use a TV or video screen for now.  How could you converge all of these activities into one elegant device?  One that would integrate or replace your other devices.  You’d still need a smartphone, and maybe a tablet, but all the TVs and computers in your house could be replaced by a Genius TV in each room, like the wall screens in the houses in the classic film Fahrenheit 451 shown above.

What all do you do with your TV, computer, phones and other gadgets in the house now?

  • Watch over-the-air TV
  • Watch cable/satellite/broadband TV
  • Watch DVD/Blu-ray discs
  • Watch Roku, AppleTV or similar Internet TV devices
  • Play video games with Xbox, Wii, Playstation
  • Use a computer connected to your TV or display
  • Skype
  • Video picture frames
  • Play family videos
  • Look at family photos
  • Listen to AM/FM/satellite music with a receiver hooked to TV
  • Listen to subscription music via the internet
  • Listen to ripped music on a hard drive
  • Watch pay-per-view TV
  • Run computer programs
  • Use tablet/smartphone apps
  • Use smartphone
  • Read books
  • Take an online course
  • Play DVD courses from The Teaching Company, or other educational training
  • Record shows with DVR
  • Medical monitoring
  • Web cameras
  • Security cameras

Okay, you get the picture.  Now think of the electronic components involved:

  • Screen with 1920×1080 resolution
  • TV tuner
  • Ethernet networking, wired or wireless
  • Cable/satellite tuner
  • Roku/AppleTV/etc. tuner
  • Computer
  • Sound/speakers
  • Hard drive
  • DVD/Blu-ray drives
  • Lots of clickers to control each device
  • Computers, tablets, ebooks, smartphones, GPSes, etc.

But let’s simplify this system.

  • 1920×1080 screen (or 2048×1536 or 4096×2160)
  • Electronic brain – or TV/CPU
  • Soundbar

Like the old component stereo systems of old, it’s easier to build and maintain a system from parts, that way you can upgrade or replace any part without replacing the whole.  The TV/CPU would have components itself.  Power supply, motherboard, memory, SSD drive.  It’s time to get away from optical drives, so let’s just assume our Genius TV won’t use DVD or Blu-ray, but the TV/CPU could have a slot for a drive for be backward compatible for those people who collected thousands discs and can’t part with them.


Den and living screens would be wall mounted, and they would include a video camera.  I picture soundbars now, but even they could be shrunk or hidden so all we see is the big screen.  That leaves us to imagine the TV/CPU.  They could be designed to easily hide in various kinds of furniture or also wall mounted.  They would need two wires, one for the power and the other for TV/Internet, which is now coax, but that wire could be redesigned into a wireless network.  Computers are becoming powerful enough, and wireless networking fast enough, that we might only need one TV/CPU brain to control all the screens in the house.  Our Genius TV could be completely hidden away, near where the fiber optic cable comes in from the street.

Of course, the controllers (clickers, keyboards, mice, game controls, motion sensors) for each screen in the house would be wireless, and we’d need them until which time we perfect human-machine verbal communication, and the video cameras that watch us can read our every movement and intent.  One day it will be just intelligent screens and people.

I think TVs should have full computer power, but not need Apple or Microsoft operating systems.  They will use those OSes for the foreseeable future, but eventually that will change.  I picture Genius TVs more like giant tablets with personalities.  The current iPad has more screen resolution than a HD TV.  Imagine if your TV had a library of apps like you find at the Apple or Android app store and could talk to your as easy as you talk to your friends?

Isn’t it time we have a world standard operating system?  So any screen size can run the same apps?  Once the screens become Geniuses, it won’t matter what OS they run, they will be smarter than us anyway.

If all our data is in the cloud, would we even need a SSD drives?  Wouldn’t 16-32gb of local memory for each screen  handle it all?  After the optical drive disappears won’t hard drives disappear next?

Can you imagine the opening menu on this Genius TV?

  • TV
  • Movies
  • News
  • Magazines
  • Music
  • Audiobooks
  • Internet
  • Apps
  • Videophone
  • Games
  • Photographs
  • Videos
  • Documents
  • Security
  • Medical

Or would we even need a menu if it was completely voice activated?   Most people can’t imagine the possibilities.  I’m sure I’m just barely scratching the surface of what’s possible.  Could you have have imagined the iPhone back in the 1990s?  Look at the video on this page about Pebble watches.  It’s a Bluetooth watch the integrates with your smartphone.  This synergy between two devices, watch and smartphone, creates surprising spinoffs.  Combing TVs, computers, internet, cable TV, phones, AI, etc. will produce some surprising spinoffs we can’t foresee now.

One thing that’s sweeping the country right now is online education.  At first in colleges but also for K-12 schooling too.   If you seen TED talks and Khan academy videos, imagine what a Genius TV could do for education.  Combine it with Skype and Google Hangout and home schooling becomes more social.  But instead of studying with children from the same school, or district, it would be possible to find other students anywhere in the world to form a study group.

If you have a 14-year-old kid who is fascinated by chemistry, you can hook them up with other 14 year-olds also fascinated by chemistry, and have them watch lectures from the very best chemistry professors in the world, and then have them remote view chemistry laboratories that are doing real chemistry.  Suddenly a TV becomes a lot more than a TV.  And computers become more than computers.

What happens if politics becomes truly participatory?  Why let just 100 senators vote on a bill, when anyone who is interested could participate?  TV has always been passive.  The Internet and computers are active.  Combining live events with the internet and TV screens should produce endless forms of real-time two-way/multi-way social networking.

What happens when your computers, TV, utility meter, security system and medical monitors mind meld into one system?  Is it a computer?  Is it a TV.  Do we need a new name?  Let’s not pick HAL 9000.  We’ll interact with large wall sized screens, so we’ll think we’re talking to a TV, but one that’s very smart.  Not some box that just passes on hundreds of video feeds.  As we add more intelligence to these devices won’t they seem more intelligent and individual?

Read Wake by Robert Sawyer.  No, I mean it.  You need to be prepared for the future.  There are science fiction stories that can help you imagine this future better than I can.  Read Rudy Rucker’s The Ware Tetralogy.   People are all nuts over vampires, zombies and werewolves right now.  Those undead creatures aren’t real and won’t happen.  Intelligent machines are happening.  Pay attention.  We’re all gadget crazy, but what happens when our TVs do become geniuses?


JWH – 4/16/12

One thought on “How To Turn Smart TVs in Genius TVs, But Will They Become HAL 9000s?”

  1. Took me a few days to digest all of this. I think you’re spot on with this…great post Jim! I’m going to check out the two books you recommend for sure.

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