Are we ready : For decades, the smart home has been a mainstay in pop culture, from Disney’s 1999 flick “Smart House,” in which an artificially intelligent home takes on the personality of a domineering mother, to the retro high-tech home of “The Jetsons.” The 1960s cartoon offered a view of domestic life a century later, from a grooming room that combs your hair and brushes your teeth, to the ever-attentive and overworked Rosie, the robot maid.
Some of the Jetsons’ housewares and furnishings, such as the bed that ejected the occupant like a piece of toast, are still a pipe dream. But 60 years later, we’ve got their smart watches and (comparatively primitive) digital assistants.
In our homes, devices like Google Nest identify friends or strangers at the door, while Philips Hue lights can be programmed to shift their color based on our circadian clocks. When we plan meals for the week, Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator photographs what’s left in the fridge and makes suggestions based on our diets.
Are we ready If there are unusual sounds in our homes (like the cat lazily knocking a drinking glass to the floor), Amazon’s Alexa alerts us. In 2020, Samsung also teased a forthcoming robot companion named Ballie, that can roll around like BB-8 from “Star Wars” and help operate our smart home devices.
For the most part, we still explicitly direct our devices on how best to serve us, but that’s about to change, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Joseph A. Paradiso, who directs the MIT Media Lab’s Responsive Environments group.
Just over two decades after the late venture capitalist Eli Zelkha and his team at Palo Alto Ventures introduced the concept of “ambient intelligence,” laying out a future in which electronics were ubiquitous, interconnected and responsive parts of our homes, we’re on the cusp of making their vision a reality. The exploding field of ambient technology promises innovative, intuitive electronics that fade into the background hum of our lives.
“Soon, you’re going to have systems that will be proactive,” Paradiso said in a video interview. Our devices are “going to see and hear as we do, and they’re going to be suggesting and prompting.”In 2018, Amazon waded into these waters with Alexa’s Hunches feature, which can perform small tasks, like turning off smart lights for you when you go to bed, without your direction. Until this January, users had to give permission for Alexa to act on her decisions.
But now, once you’ve opted in, Alexa can decide what to do around your home based on your habits.
“It’s a big change in your relationship with Alexa, if it starts to decide things for you,” Sarah Housley, head of consumer technology at trend forecasting company WGSN, explained in a video interview.
Are we ready As technology progresses, artificial intelligence (AI), the linchpin of ambient technology, will likely augment more areas of our lives. Any error, however, may lead to backlash, Housley warned.
“All it would take is for an intuitive AI system to make a bad decision that impacts badly on you or someone else. And then there would be a very quick kind of cultural conversation of who’s to blame for the decisions that technology is making for them,” Housley said, pointing to the debate that surrounded a fatal self-driving Uber accident back in 2018.
And that conversation is bound to come soon: By 2030, WGSN has predicted that we will be using 50 billion connected devices around the world, creating smart networks in and outside of the home.