The future. As human beings, we spend a large amount of time living there, at least in our heads. Thanks to the creativity of sci-fi writers, we’ve managed a glimpse of the possible future. The holographic screens, the flying cars, the automated homes, the robots trying to take over the world – we each have our own fantasies inspired by this genre. However if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Star Trek, it’s that sci-fi movies and shows of the past are a large motivation for the technologies we see in the future. Keeping true to this culture is the idea of a smart home. A home that communicates with you, learns your habits, and provides you with a customized living experience based on your preferences and personality. Sounds crazy, right?
But what if it wasn’t?
You have thermostats (that thing on the wall that controls your air conditioning and/or heating) that can adjust the cooling and heating in your home based on your habits without it ever being too hot or too cold. You have options to control all the lighting and even some appliances in your house from your phone or tablet. Scared you left the gas on but you’re going to miss your flight? No problem. A quick tap on your phone and it’s off. Some hotels such as the Hilton and Conrad offer provisions for locking and unlocking your room door from your phone. NASA is currently working on a 3D printer for pizza that will eventually be applicable to other foods and cuisines, a la Jetsons. With such advances, we are closer than ever to an actual Automated Home.
What would that be like?
Imagine living in a home that greets you as you walk in. You hand your coat to a robotic arm that puts it away where it needs to be. A hot cup of tea just as you like it awaits you on your coffee table with the latest episode of Gotham loaded up on your smart TV which isn’t really a TV because any empty wall or mirror or window can be used as a one. You don’t need to worry about cleaning your house EVER because your vacuum cleaner is scheduled to clean your home when you’re at work. Maybe you have a robotic butler that does all your dusting for you. Maybe your counter-tops and tabletops are equipped with a self-cleaning mechanism. You would never have to worry about doing laundry because your laundry hamper would sort your clothes, send them to your combo washer dryer, iron them if required and have them in your closet. Groceries would be selected by your food printer and ordered home post your approval. Blow a fuse? Your home would call an electrician to come fix it for you. To top it off, a Jarvis sort of centralized intelligence (like in Iron Man) could be used to control all these systems.
Sounds far fetched? It should.
That’s what makes it exciting. The beauty of it is that we have already come up with a lot of the aforementioned technologies. TVs in mirrors are a real thing. The Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner, has been around for a while. In fact, Dyson, a technological leader in vacuuming technology brought in a game changer in that line in the second half of 2014. Software that can “learn” is gaining popularity fast with IBM’s Watson wowing the world with what it can already do. Robotic learning has been in the works for a while now, and we even have something to show for it. Baxter, an industry grade robot brought about by Boston based Rethink Robotics can be trained like a person to perform tasks. All that’s really left is the application and condensation of these individual technologies into single coherent systems that can work together to create the ultimate living experience. How long would that be? I don’t know. We could have the systems in 5 years and maybe even have them commercially viable in a decade or two. For a civilization that’s far more enthusiastic about Kim Kardashian’s ass, it’s not too shabby.
But is it all roses?
It’s easy to paint a pretty picture, but like all advancements, this too has its potential drawbacks. Obesity is a huge problem in the developed world and automating everything will not exactly contribute towards its eradication. Automation has also cost people their jobs since machines perform simple tasks far more efficiently than humans do and don’t ask for higher pay, equal rights or time off. As these machines get smarter, they could theoretically take over more complex jobs and that does not bode well for an already overpopulated planet. Let’s not forget security concerns: what if someone hacks into your home? Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have both shown concern about the over-development of artificial intelligence, much like the creator of the Terminator franchise. I wouldn’t fault you for not listening to the human steroid, but when one of the greatest cosmologists to have ever lived and the closest person we have to a real Tony Stark warn us about something, it requires our attention.
Of course, these are mostly theoretical musings. We don’t really know what would happen if artificial intelligence exceeds our own since it is literally beyond our comprehension. What we do know is that we need to keep moving forward because stagnation means certain death. Home automation is just one example of what we can achieve with our newly developed and soon-to-be-developed tools, and it has huge implications for when we leave this planet to colonize other planets (provided we don’t kill ourselves first). The sky is our limit and our rocket’s almost built. We owe it to ourselves to follow in the wise words of Buzz Lightyear, and soar ‘to infinity and beyond’.
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