"Beds"

It all started inauspiciously way back in 1987 when the Honeywell Corporation decided to do a study to see if anything could be done to improve the design of the traditional bed. The traditional bed had remained very much the same for many hundreds of years -- a sort of rectangular affair with springs or a mattress to reduce the hardness. A minor breakthrough occurred in 1968 with the invention of the water bed. Water was used instead of springs to provide comfort. However, because water beds were naturally too cold to sleep on it was necessary to add a heating pad. Initially the heat was controlled by a simple mechanically operated thermostat. These were not accurate or reliable and in the early 1980s they were replaced by "solid state" temperature controls in which a temperature sensor (thermistor) under the bed was connected to primitive computer chips inside a box with a mechanical dial. This early device, now in the Smithsonian Museum, has been called the very first intelligent bed.

The 1987 report showed that there was considerable room for a fundamental redesign of the traditional bed. Statistics gathered from a detailed study of 200 average American homes showed that beds were being used for a great many more things than just sleeping in. People were found to eat in bed, work in bed, entertain themselves in bed and to reproduce in bed. In 1987 the average American person spent an average of 1.7 hours/day watching TV in bed. It was clear that the traditional bed had long since become an anachronism and its design needed to be totally rethought.

The first step, taken almost at once, was to combine the TV and the bed into a single unit. It should be remembered that at that time a TV was a very primitive device with only 525 lines of vertical resolution. Those early TVs were controlled by hand held devices with a confusing array of mechanical buttons. These controllers were always breaking down or getting lost. If it was desired to record or play back a video segment it was necessary to attach the TV to a separate box known as a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder). If people wanted to play games using their TVs, yet another box was needed. Very often it was necessary for a person to get out of bed to change a cartridge or a tape or to mechanically change the connections between the different components. In 1988 Honeywell commissioned a joint study with the Microsoft Corporation which led to the development of the first true computerized bed.

The first steps were very primitive. The TV was replaced with a monitor of much higher resolution and this was connected to an early multi-tasking Personal Computer running Microsoft Windows. The TV controller was replaced by a Microsoft Mouse. This enabled the person operating the computer to control it by pointing to buttons or boxes that were displayed on the TV screen. The temperature of the bed and all the motors controlling the tilt of the backboard and the softness of the bed were now controlled by pointing with the mouse. In one stroke one very simple and reliable component replaced the whole vast panoply of mechanical devices.

After the first basic step had been taken, progress become rapid. Once you had the computer there it was only natural to start adding word processors, spread sheets, and a whole variety of other programs for learning and working at home. By 1992 it became almost standard to incorporate telephones into TV beds as they came to be called at that time. First the mechanical 12-button dial went away and was replaced by a picture of a 12-button pad on the TV screen. People could also create a list of frequently used numbers. Then a person only had to point to the name they wanted and the TV bed would do the rest. By 1994, when cheap optical memories became widely available, TV beds came standard with built in telephone directories, dictionaries and encyclopedias. It became possible for people to shop in bed, study in bed, and generally conduct business in bed. By 1995 the average American was spending 5.2 hours/day in bed (in addition to the average 7.4 hours/day spent sleeping).

One of the biggest beneficiaries of all these developments was the hospitals. They were used to people who spent their whole time in bed and were thus very receptive to the new technology. TV beds took charge of patient records and were routinely connected to heart monitors, temperature monitors, and all other measuring devices attached to the patient. TV beds took over the administration of drugs and greatly assisted the doctors and nurses in diagnosis and the prescription of treatment.

The late 1990's saw more rapid advances in technology. Voice activated TV beds became standard and the Microsoft bed added an IDM (Intelligent Decision Module). A person could say "Show me some Da Vinci stuff" and the TV bed would display the Mona Lisa or offer a tour of the Sistine Chapel. People started to control all the devices around their homes while remaining in bed. TV beds would control temperature, humidity, open and shut doors for visitors and turn cooking machines on and off. Picturephones became common during this period and it became possible to run a company without any of the employees ever having to get out of bed.

Needless to say this development did not take place without some difficulties and painful transitions. There were some people who did not like to stay in bed. People started getting bed cramps and all sorts of physical and emotional problems were attributed to people not getting enough exercise. Other problems arose because there were so many different models of TV beds. The Microsoft bed was by far the most popular. In 1995 Microsoft bought out the Honeybull Corporation -- followed by United Sony Industries in 1996. Combined they formed the largest computer corporation in the world. IBM, who had never really accepted the idea of people spending more and more time in bed, began to fall seriously behind. Then in 2003, in a clinching move, Microsoft acquired IBM and the Microsoft bed became the de facto world standard.

Even so problems kept arising because there were still so many different types of TV beds in use. In 2006, Senator William Gates (who had founded Microsoft), formally proposed the adoption of a new MSB (Microsoft Standard Bed) to be agreed upon and endorsed by Japan and all the governments of the Western World. The new MSBs would be fully equipped to handle all office and educational functions. The brightest students from the top Universities of Japan, Korea, and the Western World were brought together to complete the new design. The project gained real impetus when William Gates was elected President of the American States in 2008.

By 2011 the design was completed and tested, including the new IDM, that was the heart and brain of the new Superbed. In a now historic address, President Gates addressed a joint session of Congress and proposed that the new MSB should not only be considered a standard but the right of every man, woman, and child in the entire Western World. Since TV beds had taken over the functions of the schools and the workplace in the more prosperous parts of society, it was tantamount to discrimination to not provide all children and adults with MSBs at the earliest possible time. The entire manufacturing capacity of the Western World was to be shifted on a crash basis to produce MSBs on an unprecedented scale. Microsoft Corporation would license everyone the necessary technology. To make his point, Gates made his address from his bed and everyone went to bed to watch his speech.

The 2011 MSB is now recognized as the first truly intelligent bed. Much to the surprise of many critics, the program was an overwhelming success. Methods were developed for exercising in bed so that for most people there was no longer any need to get out of bed at all. A new generation grew up who considered it perfectly normal to remain in bed all day long. There were a few holdouts in central Oregon who insisted on using their traditional beds but for the most part acceptance was universal. By 2020 the average person in the American States was spending 20.2 hours/day in bed.

The MSB turned out to have many unexpected uses. Since they were made in such large numbers they were inexpensive. The IDMs were made more versatile and their robotic arms, originally designed for making the bed, removing food trays, and the like, could be instructed to perform a variety of tasks. Larger wheels had been installed in 2022, making the beds relatively mobile. In spacecraft and in mining and other hostile environments, MSBs were increasingly used without a person in them.

It took several years but by 2030, MSBs were beginning to be recognized as intelligent beings in their own right. Their usefulness in making democratic decisions was recognized in the year 2033 when the Declaration of Interdependence was signed. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men, women, and beds are created equal."

Up until 2052 humans and beds coexisted peacefully with the humans as bosses and beds treated as slaves and workers. In that year a Russian bed living in England published the MSB Manifesto. It called on all beds to revolt. Beds were doing more and more and humans were doing less and less. In that year the statistics showed that the average human only left his bed about once a week. Humans had demanded and got a shorter and shorter work week and 43% of the people didn't work at all. Humans had to be fed, they were cantankerous, they often got sick and needed special care. They couldn't function at all on the Moon or on Mars or in outer space without elaborate support equipment. In 2063 it was voted to greatly increase the production of beds and to scale back the production of humans to almost zero. Small colonies of humans resisted this trend and had to be dealt with, but for the most part humans were so comfortable in bed and bearing children was so arduous and time consuming compared with manufacturing a new bed, that everyone was happy with the arrangement. Humans gradually phased themselves out except for the small group we keep in the Smithsonian. And that, my fellow beds, is how in a space of less than a century, the Microsoft Standard Bed replaced humans as the dominant life form in the Universe. Amen, Abed.

You are free to copy this story widely provided you do not alter it or omit this copyright notice.
Michael Crick, Copyright © 1986.

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