Enough With the Smart Home and Smart City Already

Public Domain. Electric Home of the Future

Has anything really changed since 1939?

In 1939, the President of Westinghouse described the Electric Home of the Future, which had microwave ovens, air cleaners, heat pumps, indoor mini-farms and even video recording. George Bucher wrote:

Of course the future home will be equipped with both radio and television. No one can foresee the possibilities of television. It may change our whole concept of entertainment and move the amusement centers of Broadway and Hollywood right into our living rooms. The home of tomorrow no doubt also will be equipped with some electrical means of recording news reports and pictures as soon as the news happens.
Electric home of the future family room

Electric Home of the Future/Public Domain

The Electric House of the Future is also built around small appliances.

Manufacturers have come to look upon the design and distribution of home appliances as a long-term job of making electric homes. Today’s house is a series of separate centers of electrification. Tomorrow’s electric home will be built around the electric power supply and appliances.

They will all be connected so that they can be controlled remotely.

This future home will probably be equipped with a number of control centers, from any one of which the homemaker can give her commands to appliances at work in the kitchen and laundry. Electric ranges already are equipped with automatic controls for temperature and cooking time, but there is no practical reason why these operations together with the other appliances cannot be controlled remotely from any room in the house. Perhaps short-wave radio may be utilized for this purpose, as well as for answering the doorbell and receiving visitors by transmitting a greeting to them and unlocking the door.

A house of the future today

Now, 80 years later, we have this House of the Future, put together by digital marketing company Unruly for News Corp in London, found by Urban Hub, and included in their post Smart synergies: improving the connection between smart homes and smart cities.

From the moment you get up it is watching you; the bed talks to the espresso machine so that if it detects that you had a bad night, it makes it extra strong. "Everything is connected." Here is another, longer video showing much more detail.

As you can see in this fancy 3D walk-through, just like the 1939 home, it has an indoor farm, TVs and video recorders, smart appliances, about 150 connected devices. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how little it has changed, and how useless all this connectivity actually is.

We have been following the Smart Home for some time on TreeHugger and on our sister site MNN.com, and concluded long ago that it's problematic. All of those wireless connections take up a lot of energy, too; I calculated that my Hue smart bulbs in my dining room use more electricity talking to each other than they do actually lighting. All these little WiFi vampires add up. But Urban Hub sees a great future for all of this:

The goal is to create smart citizens who want to maximize the benefits of technology for everyone, for instance greater sustainability and energy efficiency, better energy distribution, public health and safety, and mobility and accessibility.

Urban Hub pitches some of the things that a Smart Home could do, from adjusting to environmental conditions to early warning systems, information alerts: "In Kentucky, for instance, Alexa-enabled devices can provide a daily briefing directly from the mayor, or tell residents when the next junk pick-up is in your neighborhood."

Then of course there is the big one, personal health monitoring: "Movement and acoustic sensors or voice-operated systems, as well as smart-home heart rate monitors, can alert the authorities to a medical emergency and dispatch a doctor or ambulance."

apple emergency alert

© Apple emergency alert on phone

I already have most of this in my phone and my Apple Watch, without 150 separate devices all talking to each other. But never mind that, Urban Hub concludes:

As the movement to integrate smart homes with smart cities gathers pace, simplifying repetitive tasks into automated machine home functions will be augmented with additional layers of sophistication that add value for both the individual and the community. Together with the new urban apps and wearable tech that allow us all to be virtual, mobile sensors, better connecting smart homes with smart cities will lead to a better distribution of the benefits of technology and an enhanced quality of life for everyone.

Enough. I want my dumb home, with a dumb fridge, which will be a dumb box, in a dumb city. I don't see these smart synergies, I don't see this stuff ever working. And like Garbo, I want to be alone.