The fact that we are entering a world where the entire home is about to be computerised shows how far we've come since Mr. Ken Olsen, an American entrepreneur known for fostering engineering innovation, made his bold statement in 1977. Over the next decade, the internet will become increasingly integrated in our homes, with electronic appliances becoming proactive rather than reactive additions to our lives. This concept is known as “the internet of things” and was first proposed by technology pioneer Kevin Ashton in 2009.
Seven years earlier, in Tom Cruise’s 2002 box-office hit, Minority Report, we saw a world in which human thought was transferable and interchangeable with computer programs: a near seamless integration between man and machine. Although it is set to take a slightly different form then portrayed in the film, the concept that we will be able to interact with the world around us is no longer outlandish to those with their finger on the pulse of the tech industry.
But what does this mean for our homes?
The Smart Home
With the rise of wearable tech and internet connectivity slowly integrating into all home appliances, it is becoming clear that the real potential of the internet goes far beyond the computer and the phone. Homes throughout the world are set to be revolutionised: moving from objects of bricks and mortar to intelligent pieces of smart technology that will cater, adapt and customise to our every need.
Google and Nest: The Significance
Google's recent purchase of Nest is the clearest case yet that the internet's greatest potential is not in the advancement of computers but in the very real possibility that it will integrate into every aspect of our lives. This deal is the most significant acquisition by Google since YouTube in 2006.
Imagine living in a home which acted in synchronicity with your biology as an artificially intelligent aid, gauging your body temperature and adjusting the heat accordingly, measuring the mineral and vitamin content of your blood and ordering the products that your body needs to remain in good health. Or to warn you that your immune system is low whilst providing you with advice on how to counteract. Google is daring to imagine these scenarios, and their purchase of Nest and investment in "wearable tech" may just start to blur the lines between imagination and reality.
On a simplistic level, this will mean lights that will dim if they detect that you are asleep and flash if you are getting a phone call or if someone is outside the door. You will be also awoken to gradual light which will ensure that your sleep cycles remain normal and you wake in natural co-ordinance with the cycles of the sun and the moon. So, although technology will exponentially progress - in many ways - we will learn how to integrate these technologies into our natural environment. Phillips are the first to market such a product with the release of the Phillips Hue.
Your mattress will most likely be equipped with motion sensors, measuring your levels of movement while you sleep. This technology debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show this year and could revolutionise the way we think about sleep. When we are in our lightest sleeping patterns, we move around a lot and become restless. We go through these cycles every 20 minutes or so. The motion sensors will allow you to be woken when you are in your lightest phase of sleep - ensuring that you wake up fresh and ready to go. This mattress will then be able to notify other appliances via wi-fi that you have awoken and turn on the coffee machine and download the morning paper onto an e-reader. Imagine a home of seamless integration between man and appliance.
Such ideas - already in the early stages of development - are available for Android users with applications such as Android Sleep measuring your levels of movement at night: waking you when you are in the lightest cycle of sleep.
Doors and the gates will no longer need keys as technological advances such as the 'wireless cloud smart lock' increase in sophistication. When developed to maximum potential, this system should allow you to unlock your door automatically when you touch the handle, recognising a registered user is trying to enter the premises.
For guests, you can register others using their embedded code, which will allow them to enter for a time limit. With the inevitable digitisation of money and the rise of crypto currencies such as Bitcoin, Google Wallet and other methods of exchanging money - phone to phone - checking to ensure you have your keys and your wallet while leaving your house in the morning will be a custom of the past.
This wi-fi security could also be used to protect risk-takers themselves. For example, a car-owner attempting to drive whilst over the alcohol limit, could be prevented from doing so by similar technology linking the human body to Wi-Fi-enabled machinery, preventing you from activating the ignition of any automated vehicle. This would greatly reduce road deaths throughout the world.
Like Minority Report, this would be a proactive system to stop crime bringing an important moral question to the fore: can you punish someone with a crime they haven’t committed?
What Will This Lead To?
These “smart” technologies not only have the ability to add ease to our lives, but the capability to save it in the event of an emergency. Imagine a Wi-Fi chip which could detect a heart attack or any serious illness which automatically contacts emergency services, immediately sending an ambulance out to the home of the victim- with no time wasted. The benefits are limitless as are the dangers.
All these integrations, however, will most likely require some kind of wearable tech, or technology embedded into the human body - which could lead to the amalgamation of man and machine (a chip in your arm?). This will be one of the most hotly debated moral topics by 2020-2025 and the thought of such a system being hacked could lead to all sorts of problems that we can’t even imagine in the present day.
In the future, the wi-fi security of your house (and your person) will be just as important to safety as the front door. In order for this technology to reach the masses - the guarantee of privacy will be essential - (no more NSA surveillance scandals would help). Those who have embraced technology are angry and this will lead to internet privacy backlash in which people will become increasingly weary of revealing private information online and maintaining online anonymity. We have already seen this with the rise of disposable social media channels such as SnapChat and anonymous internet browsers and search engines such as Tor Browser and DuckDuckGo.
How Are These Technologies Progressing?
These developments are watched with excitement and enthusiasm as the tech industry will soon branch out into a wider term and simply become known as “industry” with no need to differentiate between the two, as the digitisation of every sector is inevitable. The same way as in the early 20th century one would not feel the need to highlight the fact that a company was using “electricity” as part of their business model - such things, beyond 2014, will be obvious.
All these innovations together will lead to what will be known as the "smart home", and at first will only be available to the elite. But there will be a tipping point when the pricing of smart home technologies reaches an equilibrium, and this is when smart homes will become available to the masses. How these systems are controlled, and how we will control them is yet to be seen. One thing however, is certain. The syncretic relationship between man and machine is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
These changes will be gradual, but in the coming decades most appliances in your home, and indeed elements of your home itself, will be “smart” - customisable and constantly adapting to your every habit, desire and need. We are entering the age where consumer will indeed be King, on so many different levels.
A quote that sticks out in my mind from the film Minority Report is: “Sometimes, in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark”. There is a mysterious yet important message in here: as we navigate through the unfamiliar territory of the future, some industries will get wiped out, personal privacy may be challenged, and workers may find it challenging to adapt to a world constantly in flux. But if we want to continue to improve and streamline our homes and the world around us, we can't let the possible pitfalls be a deterrent to innovation. Just as our forefathers did before us, we have to be prepared to risk the dark.