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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

The practicality of smart homes going from the big screen to the real world

Smart home technology has long been discussed inside tech circles as a huge opportunity for innovation and growth. But as adoption rates increase, we’re left wondering what the impact will be, socially and practically speaking, from having so much advanced automation inside of our homes.

In 1999, the Disney Channel came out with one of its classic original movies, Smart House, which told the story about a house of the future that was built and run by a virtual assistant named Pat. At the time, the impending Y2K bug was all the buzz, smartphones hadn’t yet been developed, and the first iPod – click wheel and all – was still two years away from being released. And though the movie was a little eccentric in some ways, it actually gota number of predictions right.

The brain of the Smart House was an artificially intelligent smart assistant that learned about the family over time and was able to make decisions based on their actions. The house supported voice control commands for basic tasks like controlling the temperature in the home. It could even send messages to contacts without even needing to pick up the phone. The Smart House could make you coffee when you were ready, host video calls, and had a wall that doubled as a TV (a technology Samsung debuted at this year’s CES trade show).

But for all of the neat predictions the Disney Channel movie got right, it also touched on one of the greatest fears people have with introducing smart technology into the privacy of their own homes. Eventually, the AI-based computer system became too smart for its own good – monitoring and making decisions even after it had been shut down. The family lost control and chaos ensued in a computer versus human showdown.

Nearly 20 years later, we stand at a crucible moment in the evolution of the modern smart house. Smart home penetration is at 34 percent in the United States, and will rise to 38 percent in 2019. By the end of next year, global spending on smart systems will exceed an estimated $150 billion.

So it’s no longer a matter of if the smart house will become a reality, but an issue of how quickly it’ll have a fundamental impact on society.

While there are certainly some concerns with smart home technology – and we’ll discuss those in the following section – let’s briefly highlight some of benefits that stem from introducing intelligent gadgets and systems into our living spaces:

  • Who can argue with the convenience factor of smart home technology? You can sync up everything from smart home window solutions that automate the control of natural light inside your house,to live-stream video doorbells with 1080p HD video. Never lift a finger again!
  • Energy savings. Many smart home technologies are designed to promote greater energy efficiency. They learn your behaviors and set temperatures based on factors like location, weather, time of day, and day of the week.
  • One of the perks of having a smart security system is that you can monitor and control your home’s security from the comfort of your bed (or even while you’re out of town on vacation).

Though the idea of an AI-based smart home system taking over your home and locking you inside (per the Disney Channel original movie) is a little far-fetched, there are some very real negatives and concerns that come with having too much technology in the house. Take a look:

  • The upfront cost of investing in an advanced smart home system can be expensive. While these products often provide savings on the back end (in terms of energy savings), it can take a few years to reach the break-even point. For some homeowners, this isn’t practical.
  • Privacy and safety concerns. As with the movie, many people have concerns about constantly being surrounded by cameras, sensors, and AI systems that learn your behaviors. There’s also the risk of being hacked.
  • Reliability issues. How many times has your computer crashed? How often does your smartphone freeze up or give you an error message? Reliability will always be an issue with cutting-edge technology. And though it may be innocuous at times, it can also present very real issues. For example, what happens if you’re trying to get inside your house on a cold, rainy night and the front door lock malfunctions? Little glitches like these can be costly in more ways than one.

For as long as there is smart home technology, the question will always be, how much is too much? For some, technology means nothing more than ease, simplicity, and automation. For others, it represents an infringement of privacy and the peak of laziness. But whichever side of the fence you find yourself on, you’ll confront this issue head-on in the coming years. The smart home is here to stay.

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