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Message subject : Smart Homes, Dumb Ideas.....

This message was posted by Avi on July 19, 2000 :

I've been getting a lot of press releases lately from newcomers to the computing scene who expect to make a killing when the "smart home" comes into its own. This pipe dream has been floating around the business for years and always reemerges during boom times when people are rich and can't seem to figure out what to do with their disposable income. There's nothing like wasting your money on a smart home.

The idea sounds reasonable on the surface: Create an energy-saving home that monitors itself and make everything networked and coordinated. But the basic idea always expands into something silly. Let's look at a few dumb concepts:

Light control. You'll turn off the bedroom lights from your TCP/IP connection when you're on the road. "Mummy, Daddy is turning the lights on and off again from Cleveland! He's scaring me!!!" My advice: Get up and turn off the lights yourself.

Refrigerator inventory. A networked refrigerator (which nobody makes and which will cost a fortune if anyone ever does) will keep tabs on your milk and order a new carton when you run out. Of course, it's unknown whether the milk carton itself needs to have a wireless connection, since someone may leave the carton on the table. How long will the refrigerator take to determine that the milk has been consumed? And what about sour milk? It seems more important that the refrigerator is able to identify spoiled milk. Whenever I hear about this scheme, I always ask myself what kind of nutball wants or needs such a service.

Appliance maintenance. IBM has a commercial in which a repair guy shows up to fix the washing machine. The homeowner answers the door, greets this repairman, and says that he didn't call for repair. The repairman says the appliance called. This is rich. Talk about an opportunity for all sorts of crime. As if you're going to let everyone who claims that an appliance called come into your house. "Oh, sure! Come on in! Steal what you want while you're here." Who dreams up these ideas?

Home entertainment network. So I'm not paying enough for basic cable? The idea here is that you're going to have TVs and speakers and all sorts of devices interconnected via a home server. Who needs it?! People who can afford such a complex system can't afford the time to enjoy it.

Mood lighting. For those of you who need to get the lighting just right for that romantic evening or to set the mood for the dinner party, this one's for you. You'll push a button and the 3,000 lights in your house will create the perfect atmosphere. So much for the energy savings achieved by a smart house. When done right, mood lighting means lots of bulbs.

Some of the more advanced smart-home schemes are insane. Bill Gates leads the way, with his much-discussed plan to fill his house with video projectors projecting art on the walls based on an individual's taste. A visitor fills out a profile and then wears a badge that transmits his preferences as he enters a room.

Exactly how this kind of system works when two people with different tastes are in the same room is a mystery. Why not just put on virtual-reality helmets and let everyone live in his or her own little world? This concept is a real eye-roller, affordable only by people with more money than they know what to do with.

If you look at the smart house objectively, you're really seeing the fantasy bachelor pad of the early 1960s, when the Playboy lifestyle was promoted to little kids, who grew up to become members of today's upper classes. Eventually, the smart home will simply be a house with networking cable in it, a programmable thermostat that nobody will be able to program, and a few X-10 switches here and there. The rest is nonsense.

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