Smart Homes: Future or Fallacy?

Imagine being woken up by an alarm clock that knows exactly which scents and sounds set you up for a positive and productive day. The bed makes itself while the shower, recognizing your voice, adjusts the water to your favorite temperature. Your mirror displays the weather, gives news briefings, and allows you to virtually try on outfits. Coffee has already been made, and the screen on your refrigerator suggests breakfast recipes based on the food stored inside. Listen to voicemails, reply to emails, and make calls without even touching your phone or computer. Don’t worry about running home if you left the stove on since a mobile application will allow you to shut it off remotely from work. This is what it’s like to live in a smart home.

What first began as science fiction has now started to phase into reality, thanks to advancements in technology and creative minds around the world. Even though the means exist, how likely is it that the average person will live in a smart home?

Not everyone can afford a voice-enabled refrigerator. Expenses may prevent a number of households from modernizing even if they are enthusiastic about the developments in smart technology. Think back to the first color televisions and desktop computers. At the time they were luxury items that a family might splurge on if they were comfortably middle-class. Now it is common to see homes where each room has a television and each person has their own computer. There are, however, millions of people who can only afford to buy used, refurbished, or "cheap" versions of these products. I won’t go into income inequality right now, but I doubt having a house that locks itself is a priority for people who are struggling financially.

There are tech-savvy people in every generation but also those who prefer to keep their lives simple. An increasing number of Millenials are going on technology cleanses in which they delete their Facebook accounts in an effort to decrease their reliance upon electronics. It’s unlikely that they will be buying the latest smart device. There are also people who are accustomed to the traditional values and way of life that prevailed before the Information Era changed the world. They may not see any reason why they need a virtual assistant to tell them the weather when a human can give them a forecast on the morning news. Sure, skeptical minds can be changed, but it will probably take some time before smart homes are engrained in our culture as deeply as the Internet.

Smart home technologies belong to the family of connected devices often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), which has a lot of security issues. The average person may not be aware of how easy it is for hackers to potentially infect these devices for malicious purposes, but Edward Snowden reached enough ears that the general public is aware that someone could potentially be watching them. As more and more webcams get covered up with a piece of duct tape, it seems that people are taking the privacy violations seriously. Smart home devices can’t be covered up with duct tape, however, since they rely upon the accumulation of your personal data in order to serve you properly. This understandably makes some families nervous.

Artificial intelligence plays a vital role in what makes formerly mundane household appliances, smart. It also serves as a point of controversy for scientists and lay-people alike. How smart is too smart, exactly? Giant leaps in science and technology have always been faced with some initial apprehension, but advances in AI are forcing us to question what it means to be alive and have a consciousness. It’s off-putting to have an existential crisis each time a virtual assistant says something unexpected. It’s understandable that some people may have misgivings about giving a computer program so much control over their lives. What if something malfunctions and people get hurt? As of right now companies cannot provide a 100% guarantee that smart home devices will always work as advertised, and that may be enough to deter consumers from purchasing them.

Oddly enough, some people already live in a smart home without even realizing it! Perhaps to be considered a smart home owner, you don’t need to have all the fancy refrigerators and what not. Many people have a smart TV, virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, and home security systems. Some people may have smarter houses than others, sure, but that doesn’t mean others are living in the past. Ultimately I believe that eventually, as more devices come built in with AI and other intelligent features, old products will be phased out and people will be living in smart homes before they know it.

What do you think? Are you currently living in a smart home? Respond in the comments below!

Image Credit: Naomi Hébert on Unsplash