Thursday, May 15, 2014

Smart Houses

The June 2014 issue of CONSUMER REPORTS contains an article titled “Run Your Home from Your Phone.” (Unfortunately, their articles aren’t available free online.) Here are some of the operations that can already be performed remotely by cell phone apps:

Monitor burglar alarms. Notify you if your home electrical generator stops working. Sense body heat patterns and turn equipment on and off depending on whether there are people in the room. (I don’t quite get what this one has to do with remote operation by phone.) Let you know when water is overflowing from a pipe or appliance and shut it off. Remotely lock and unlock doors or “change who’s authorized to enter.” Notify you if the smoke alarm or CO detector is triggered and shut down fuel-burning appliances. Tell you if the power to the refrigerator fails. Start the washing machine or dryer and alert you if the dryer vent is clogged. Preheat the oven, set the timer, and check cooking status. Turn lights on and off, as well as set a vacation schedule for lights and climate controls.

The article cautions that potential hackers might access information such as the locking and unlocking history of the doors or the fact that a smart thermostat is in vacation mode. It also rightly points out that switching on an oven when you aren’t home could present a fire hazard. (More so than starting the oven and then going out for a while, though?) The writers also mention a device that they don’t recommend and I can’t imagine why anybody would bother with—a smart toilet priced at over $5,000. Unless you’re severely disabled, do you really want a commode to open automatically at your approach, play music(!!), flush automatically, and clean itself? Okay, maybe the last feature would be handy. But I don’t even like public restroom facilities with hands-free flushing, which have a creepy habit of activating when one doesn’t want them to. And, says the article, the system can easily be hacked.

I doubt I would embrace any of these functions, even if I had a smart phone (when we last upgraded our account and the rest of the family got smart phones, I insisted on keeping my dumb one) and even if the apps and their associated systems became super cheap. I already shudder at the thought of storing one’s bank account password on a gadget so vulnerable to loss or theft, much less the unlocking code for one’s house. I can see the appeal of the convenience, however.

Maybe today’s children, as adults, will be living in totally computerized homes like the one in Ray Bradbury’s classic story “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Personally, I’d love to see a sapient, talking house like “Sarah” in the TV series EUREKA. “She” was one of my favorite secondary characters. I especially enjoyed the plot thread of her falling in love with the robotic deputy sheriff, Andy.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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