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Why Machines Aren’t Taking Over (Yet)

By Jennifer Polk | February 13, 2019 | 2 Comments

MarketingDigital Performance BenchmarksTechnology and Emerging Trends

On a dark and stormy night, my power went out five times. Of course, every time the power fails, so does the furnace, in February, in the Midwest. Below is a picture that could easily represent my backyard. It’s beautiful, but the temperatures are deadly. Each time the power went out, I waited pensively to see the lights come back on and to hear the comforting sound of the furnace. Thankfully, I was never disappointed. At midnight, secure in the knowledge that my family had heat, I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

white and gray house painting

What Happens When Machines Fail Us?

When I awoke around 3 o’clock in the morning, I found a text message from my husband–away on a business trip–alerting me to the fact that our Ecobee mobile application showed the temperature in the house had dropped below the range established in the pre-programmed setting on the Ecobee smart thermostat. In fact, the temperature in our house was 66 degrees and still dropping. A quick check of the thermostat confirmed the temperature showing on the mobile application. But, oddly, the furnace hummed on and warm air wafted from the vents.

I assumed, perhaps, the interruptions in power and heat had led to the temperature decline. I took comfort in the fact that our furnace was now working overtime to return things to normal, that is until 6 o’clock in the morning. I awoke to another message from my husband that the temperature was down again. He was correct. Despite the fact that the furnace was still humming and warm air was still blowing through the ducts, the temperature had dropped even further.

While I appreciated that the smart thermostat and mobile application kept us in the know, they did little to explain the underlying cause of this situation. It was time to go manual. It was time to go down to the basement and take a look at the furnace for myself. Around this same time, it stopped humming. After removing the panel, I discovered something very alarming–nothing was happening. The fan was still. The heating coil was black. The places where fire should be were disturbingly free from fire.

What Happens When Smart Things Make Us Feel Dumb? 

Maternal instincts in high gear, I started troubleshooting. After all, I have two small children and a dog. What we needed was heat, not a smart thermostat or mobile application to tell us whether or not we had heat.  Since then, I’ve discovered I can “jump start” the furnace by relying on a technique that is as old as time itself–powering it off and then powering it back on. Take that Ecobee. My husband and I actually suspect an update to the Ecobee mobile application may be behind all of this, but that’s for him to confirm at a later time.

In the mean time, I knew I could get the furnace to kick on. Now, however, the problem was getting it to stay on and heat the house past 68 degrees. Fast forward to 2 o’clock this afternoon. My husband has talked me through removing the Ecobee smart thermostat and reinstalling our old thermostat, involving a decent amount of wiring and a few expletives. The furnace is humming. No sound is sweeter in a Midwest winter. I feel accomplished, with or without the benefit of the smart thermostat, which I really liked. Most importantly, I feel warm.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? For marketing teams everywhere who are concerned about how to blend man and machine, this story is meant to remind you of three things:

  1. Performance wins over intelligence. Knowing the temperature wasn’t nearly as important as being able to understand what was causing the temperature change and to reliably and consistently control the temperature.
  2. The future of marketing will require man and machine. Machines can make us more intelligent and more efficient, which can improve performance in some areas. But, manual effort still has its place, especially when machines fail us.
  3. Tools are nothing without talent and teamwork. I have mixed feelings about bearing this burden while my husband travels. But, without his ability to recognize the underlying issue and talk me through the thermostat replacement, it would be pretty cold in our house, even with a shiny, smart thermostat.


Comments are closed


  • Fran Garvey says:

    Great article! Innovative, yes! Being the one who works from home, I set up the generator, run the electrical cords to sump pumps and the electric fireplace, which has proven to be very helpful when heat fails.

    Nothing like a good YouTube video to help fix the machines!

    Excellent marketing points too!

  • Don Welch says:

    Excellent article.