It started with devices such as Nest, the connected thermostat, and Withings, the connect scale. As more and more devices hook into our home network, the opportunity to have them talk to each other begets scenarios that harken back to the Connected Home visions from the 90s. Remember the internet-enabled refrigerator? Samsung now makes one.
All this reminded me of this piece about the Connected Home that was floating around on usenet way back in the day. It’s enjoyable to read as a lens into the mid-90s and what they thought of the future. It also reminds us of how far we’ve come. Thanks to Google Groups’ archive I was able to dig up the original which unfortunately was never signed. Enjoy.
The Diary of a Digital Homeowner:
Nov 28, 1997:
Moved in to my new digitally-maxed out Hermosa Beach house at last. Finally, we live in the smartest house in the neighborhood. Everything’s networked. The cable TV is connected to our phone, which is connected to my personal computer, which is connected to the power lines, all the appliances and the security system. Everything runs off a universal remote with the friendliest interface I’ve ever used. Programming is a snap. I’m like, totally wired.
Hot Stuff! Programmed my VCR from the office, turned up the thermostat and switched on the lights with the car phone, remotely tweaked the oven a few degrees for my pizza. Everything nice & cozy when I arrived. Maybe I should get the universal remote surgically attached.
Had to call the SmartHouse people today about bandwidth problems. The TV drops to about 2 frames/second when I’m talking on the phone. They insist it’s a problem with the cable company’s compression algorithms. How do they expect me to order things from the Home Shopping Channel?
Got my first SmartHouse invoice today and was unpleasantly surprised. I suspect the cleaning woman of reading Usenet from the washing machine interface when I’m not here. She must be downloading one hell of a lot of GIFs from the binary groups, because packet charges were through the roof on the invoice.
Yesterday, the kitchen CRASHED. Freak event. As I opened the refrigerator door, the light bulb blew. Immediately, everything else electrical shut down — lights, microwave, coffee maker — everything. Carefully unplugged and replugged all the appliances. Nothing.
Call the cable company (but not from the kitchen phone). They refer me to the utility. The utility insists that the problem is in the software. So the software company runs some remote telediagnostics via my house processor. Their expert system claims it has to be the utility’s fault. I don’t care, I just want my kitchen back. More phone calls; more remote diag’s.
Turns out the problem was “unanticipated failure mode”: The network had never seen a refrigerator bulb failure while the door was open. So the fuzzy logic interpreted the burnout as a power surge and shut down the entire kitchen. But because sensor memory confirmed that there hadn’t actually been a power surge, the kitchen logic sequence was confused and it couldn’t do a standard restart. The utility guy swears this was the first time this has ever happened. Rebooting the kitchen took over an hour.
The police are not happy. Our house keeps calling them for help. We discover that whenever we play the TV or stereo above 25 decibels, it creates patterns of micro-vibrations that get amplified when they hit the window. When these vibrations mix with a gust of wind, the security sensors are actuated, and the police computer concludes that someone is trying to break in. Go figure.
Another glitch: Whenever the basement is in self-diagnostic mode, the universal remote won’t let me change the channels on my TV. That means I actually have to get up off the couch and change the channels by hand. The software and the utility people say this flaw will be fixed in the next upgrade — SmartHouse 2.1. But it’s not ready yet.
Finally, I’m starting to suspect that the microwave is secretly tuning into the cable system to watch Bay Watch. The unit is completely inoperable during that same hour. I guess I can live with that. At least the blender is not tuning in to old I Love Lucy episodes.
I just bought the new Microsoft Home. Took 93 gigabytes of storage, but it will be worth it, I think. The house should be much easier to use and should really do everything. I had to sign a second mortgage over to Microsoft, but I don’t mind: I don’t really own my house now–it’s really the bank. Let them deal with Microsoft.
I’m beginning to have doubts about Microsoft House. I keep getting an hourglass symbol showing up when I want to run the dishwasher.
This is a nightmare. There’s a virus in the house. My personal computer caught it while browsing on the public access network. I come home and the living room is a sauna, the bedroom windows are covered with ice, the refrigerator has defrosted, the washing machine has flooded the basement, the garage door is cycling up and down and the TV is stuck on the home shopping channel. Throughout the house, lights flicker like stroboscopes until they explode from the strain. Broken glass is everywhere. Of course, the security sensors detect nothing.
I look at a message slowly throbbing on my personal computer screen: WELCOME TO HomeWrecker!!! NOW THE FUN BEGINS … (Be it ever so humble, there’s no virus like the HomeWrecker…).
They think they’ve digitally disinfected the house, but the place is a shambles. Pipes have burst and we’re not completely sure we’ve got the part of the virus that attacks toilets. Nevertheless, the Exorcists (as the anti-virus SWAT team members like to call themselves) are confident the worst is over. “HomeWrecker is pretty bad” one of them tells me, “but consider yourself lucky you didn’t get PolterGeist. That one is really evil.”
Apparently, our house isn’t insured for viruses. “Fires and mudslides, yes,” says the claims adjuster. “Viruses, no.” My agreement with the SmartHouse people explicitly states that all claims and warranties are null and void if any appliance or computer in my house networks in any way, shape or form with a non-certified online service. Everybody’s very, very, sorry, but they can’t be expected to anticipate every virus that might be created.
We call our lawyer. He laughs. He’s excited!
I get a call from a SmartHouse sales rep. As a special holiday offer, we get the free opportunity to become a beta site for the company’s new SmartHouse 2.1 upgrade. He says I’ll be able to meet the programmers personally. “Sure,” I tell him.