Thinking about the future can be a lot of fun. Our natural inclination is to believe that it will look something like a linear extrapolation of the present. Our phones will be a little faster. Our clothes will be slightly cheaper and our kitchen gadgets a little more capable.
But when you study technology’s history, you discover that things don’t progress in a straight line. Instead, they come in fits and starts, with many innovations exploding out of nowhere.
Five years ago, for instance, the idea that you could talk to a computer in your house and get it to do things for you, like set the shower temperature or change the color of the lights, would have seemed hopelessly futuristic. And yet in that same year, the first home assistants that could do that sort of thing appeared on the market.
Now, systems like Google Home and Amazon Alexa have thousands of skills and can do pretty much anything you want, from setting timers to calling up your local dog grooming parlor and arranging a booking.
At Google I/O 2018, the tech giant unveiled a genuinely incredible system that could reserve a restaurant table on your behalf and have a conversation with the staff on the other end of the line. Remarkable!
It all begs the question of what’s coming next in terms of home technology. We’ve already seen some pretty impressive sea-changes in what’s possible. So we’re wondering what’s coming next down the pike.
Anticipating Your Needs
When the producers of Star Trek imagined the future of human-computer interactions, they envisaged a world in which people gave computers instructions, and they carried them out. And that’s certainly the direction things have gone in recent years. But now experts are predicting that the IoT and smart home are going to change this. By 2030, it will be possible for home assistants to anticipate your needs, based on past behavior, and accommodate them automatically, without you even having to say anything.
This technology will become possible through a combination of sensors and artificial intelligence. Data will flood into a central processor, creating a personal profile, detailing all your preferences. It’ll then figure out which services you need at any given moment and provide them to you.
In practice, the implications are remarkable. For instance, your smartphone could start running your shower at the preferred temperature the moment you step into the cubicle. Or it could notice that you’re about to start cooking a recipe you’re reading on your tablet and turn the oven to the right temperature.
It may even proactively choose to introduce you to information or news it feels is worth interrupting you for. So, for instance, let’s say that you’re a scientist with interest in batteries, and a new paper on the subject comes out in a scientific journal. Home assistants could rifle through all this material, curate content, and then introduce you to it the moment it appears.
Improving The Built Environment
Technological improvements, however, are moving beyond the electronic and into the realm of material science too. We’ve seen dozens of examples of this already. For instance, microwaves don’t burn you because special materials prevent the waves from leaving the machine and hurting you. Similarly, insulating foam has improved dramatically in recent years, helping to make properties more efficient.
Material science, though, doesn’t standstill. Researchers continue to make breakthroughs, and they’re having a massive impact on how we use our homes.
Take air purification systems, for instance. In the old days, these rely on forcing air through a filter, capturing particles, preventing them from circulating in the air.
Now, though, researchers say that they’ve found new materials and methods that convert those same particles into harmless byproducts, like water. The result is a greener, more efficient system that will satisfy even the most eco-conscious homeowners of the 2020s, 2030s, and beyond.
Molekule is a brand that is currently experimenting in this arena. In an article entitled, “Does the Molekule air purifier produce ozone or destroy it?” the company demonstrates how the new technology works. Filters, they claim, don’t necessarily need to emit harmful gases. In fact, some can even capture them from the environment and eliminate them.
What About Robots?
Ever since the Jetsons, we’ve wanted to bring robots into our homes. The idea of a mechanical assistant doing all your chores for you seems like a dream come true. But will it actually happen? Technologists have promised them for years.
According to robot companies like Ori Living, furniture is likely to be the first place we see brands adding robotic features. For instance, a chair might adjust its position if it detects you’re about to sit down to make it a more comfortable experience for you.
We will also likely see security robots’ appearance with cameras attached to their bodies who will both film and deter intruders. Design3 recently showed off a concept of what this might look like. Their idea is a fabric-covered device studded with cameras that rolls along the floor, scanning the entire environment.
By 2030, big tech hardware companies like Samsung and LG will likely be selling automated kitchens. How these will look remains a matter of debate. But one idea is that people will install robot arms on their kitchen countertops, and these will get on with the task of making your dinner once you provide them with the necessary ingredients.
Disembodied arms might also offer benefits when getting into the bath or bed. People with mobility issues might be able to rely on these devices to guide them into the desired position and provide support automatically.
Arms by the sink could also be beneficial. Instead of doing the washing up manually, a handy robot could do it all for you.
It’s strange to think of such a device ever going into production. But if it did, it’ll need a host of cameras and sensors, as well as some spectacular processing power to interpret all the data being fed to it.
Manufacturers would also have to overcome safety concerns. Stopping robots from bashing into people as they went about their business would be a highly challenging technical problem.
If you thought the last time you’d see a light-up wall was in a Michael Jackson music video, you’re sadly mistaken. It’s possible that by 2030, LED technology will have advanced to the point where light up walls become practical and cost-effective for the average homeowner.
LEDs, like so many other silicon-based technologies, are on an exponential trajectory towards miniaturization. Eventually, the diodes themselves will be small enough to embed just about anywhere, allowing for more exciting light structures. One option is to cover entire walls with diffuser panels and then lace LED lights behind them to illuminate rooms. Systems like this would take the Philips Hue concept to a whole new level. Surprisingly, nobody is doing this mainstream yet.
Health Sensor Stations
Another futuristic concept is the idea of a health sensor station. There is no equivalent of this in our homes right now, so it would be genuinely radical if implemented.
The idea is to embed health sensors in our appliances – or collect them together into a single device – continually feeding information to the cloud. If our markers indicate a problem, computers could alert our doctors, suggest we take medication or adjust our meal schedule for the week.
It’s worth thinking about the potential invasiveness of this technology. For instance, we have companies looking at ways to attach sensors to toilets to analyze your poop and urine, looking for signs of disease. Sensors could also monitor our skin, looking for changes that indicate health problems below the surface.
Privacy concerns will become a big issue in 2030. It’s bad enough having a smartphone in your pocket the whole time. It is much worse having multiple sensors in every room, continually listening for anything that might indicate a change in behavior.
Already hackers have compromised some home IoT devices, sending them bogus traffic from the internet and, in some cases, crashing them. We could see this sort of thing accelerate in the future, allowing people to get an unprecedented view into others’ lives in a way that just wasn’t possible before (without security bugging).
Thus, by 2030, our homes are likely to look more like our smartphones than anything we might recognize today. Technology is going to leak into every aspect of our interior spaces, providing us with irresistible functionality. And improvements in materials will mean that we’re able to create physical environments that were once impossible.
Therefore, with all this tech, we’re likely to see owners consciously creating “tech-free” rooms in their properties – places where the machines aren’t allowed to go. And that could be the strangest aspect of this entire episode – people actively looking to get away from the very tech that makes their lives more convenient. People may have digital detox days from their homes in the future, just as they do with their phones today.