Automated Homes

Boing boing iPad home automation

Inspired by the above post on Boing Boing, I decided to take a look at home automation and how today’s tech is measuring up to its fictional predecessors. Author/blogger Alan Graham described in the post, how he is using an iPad as a interface for his home-brewed automation system. Using the Pad’s touch screen, he can adjust his home’s lights, temperature, coffee grinder, entertainment system, and apparently a chicken coop.

Boing Boing iPad auto home display

Now Graham’s ingenuity and customization of his home should be commended in the same way that one does a custom-mod Xbox, but the phenomenon of automating your home is itself fascinating; and from the point of view of this blog, it’s worth looking at its origin in Science Fiction. The use of technology to ease the pains and chores of everyday life has long been a staple of industrialization, and later commodity culture.

you'll live better electrically

This idea of selling a better lifestyle was integral to early advertising, as it was to early SF. The obvious example that comes to mind is the 1960’s The Jetsons, whose near-utopian homes were rigged with everything from moving sidewalks to humanoid cleaning bots. For our purposes, just watch the first 90 seconds or so , and try not to be too creeped out by the dog – have they ever heard a real one?

So this got me thinking – to quote the ever precient Doktor Sleepless:

“Where’s my jetpack? Where’s my flying car?”

Well, Where’s my automated home?

Surely by 2010, we should have some pretty banging automated houses set up around the globe… Some quick searching turned up several companies working in the same vein as the previously mentioned Alan Graham. My favorite is called (no, really)… HAL.

HAL home automation... not going to kill you, really.

I can understand wanting to materialize the blissful technology of Utopian SF, but the homicidal AI from 2001? Really? In control of your home? Maybe the folks at Home Automated Living  never saw 1977’s wonderfully ludicrous Demon Seed, whose trailer follows:

The film details a programmer-cum-philosopher whose utilitarian home automation system is taken over by a recently created super AI.

Here’s another video of a setup be E-Home in Dubai. Our tour guide has the unfortunate habit of referring to “Valerie” as a person, and says in a particularly creppy bit around 2:25: “she knows what I like…” But hey, automated curtains!

If  – like in the above video – you’re using a gaming controller to accomplish mundane actions around your house, aren’t you threatening the already narrow gap between real life and its simulacra? Which brings us to the big question of whether or not we should protect that distinction. The pleasure taken in narrative fiction and the ever-illusive goal of depicting precise reality in film and software are signs that (at some level or another) we want to escape reality into something that is exactly like it – but better. Temporary escapism is reasonable, but replacement is not. After all, turning your home into a futuristic techno-palace isn’t actually improving real conditions so much as it is further escaping into conditions already portrayed in mass media. Plus it’s definitely worth questioning the nirvana-like goal of controlling your total environment from a comfortable sofa.

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1 Response to “Automated Homes”



  1. 1 Manifest Future Trackback on July 3, 2010 at 7:34 pm

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