Smart things, dumb people?

Because your eggs won’t boil faster using your iPhone

Smart(put anything here) is the future. Whether you want it, or not. It’s the future because progress in technology is what have led mankind this last millenia. It is the future because we can. It is the future because a lot of companies want you to buy that is the future.

Neutra’s Case Study House No22 Stahl Residence

Are all these connected things really smart?

My answer to this is straight and simple: no. Many of these devices are just connected, making your phone the most expensive remote controller you’ll ever use.

A GE ad

Sure enough, this allows you to remotely control your smart whatever. But, to be honest, I don’t think it worths the bigger price tag. This leads me to make a first assumption. Not all connected devices are smart but smart devices should be connected. But connected to what, and what smart means?

Smart ≠ Connected

You may have noticed that a lot of people are able to talk but only a few of them can say smart things. It’s the same for connected objects, turning your light bulbs or your oven into connected objects don’t make them smarter by nature, it only connects them.

But some people may look smart while talking and your oven may be the same… All these remote controls, these dashboards, these things you can share, how could it still be a dumb thing? It’s simple, smart people learn and smart things learn too

Smart things learn

What makes a device such as the Nest thermostat a great device? It learns and does things according to what I do, what I’ve done and what I seem to think enjoyable. What makes it great is that I don’t need to interact with it. Interactions will be much less needed, and new features such as Alexa control or monitoring users location prove it.

What it teaches us is that context matters. The power of connected devices is their awareness of the context around the user, like its location, its pas actions or its current action. Devices should use this context and adapt to it, providing the right infos or performing the right actions, at the right time.

The babel tower of things

To really interact in a smart way, devices should all be connected and talk to each other, seamlessly. After all we call it the Internet of Things, not the things that talk to user who has an internet access. But, do your bluetooth speakers currently talk to you connected scale. It is likely that they don’t, at least not straight out of the box.

This is a major pain because it usually means you need one app per device to use, and this is just too much! Luckily some smart object are already working through API’s which means some smart people can go to IFTTT (or Zapier) and automate the interactions between devices. And finally, the usual suspect are all building API’s to allow third parties to buy into their ecosystem (here is a map by Chris McCann) with Google’s Brillo, Apple Homekit or Amazon Alexa…

One smartphone to run them all

These ecosystems will allow devices to interact with users devices running iOs, Android or any echo powered device.

But now, smartphones seem to be the devices which connect all your devices together. This causes several problems like choosing smart devices because they work with your smartphone and then never buy an other smartphone. However, this is partially solving the issue of devices not being able to talk to each othe, making them usable through one app, but, still not interacting together in a smart way.

It’s also a reminder that smartphones have become the de-facto interface for everything that can be controlled remotely and that, basically, every interaction we have are happening through screens.

The power of attraction we’ve developed with screens have made our thinkings revolving around them and therefore we’ve built things for the past years with the sole idea that they should be, and would be, used with a phone. But I think we are leaving this “all screen” era.

The last five years era has been centered around phones. And, while screen have surely made a lot of new interactions possible, interactions that have then become more enjoyable, easier and more efficient than their different counterparts. It has also alienated a lot from each other. Making us more staring at screens than to each other. Making us more receptive to dramas far away but also blind to the one we see while walking in the streets.

Technology should never be a goal but always a mean. Technology should allow to do to do more, to try new things. Technology should relieve us from the daily things we are struggling with.

Smart home, allow me to be dumber

What I want from a smart home is quite simple, yet undoable from a machine point of view.

I want it to be fully aware of the context around me. Whether i’m working late, leaving early, or in the need of new light bulbs, I want to be notified about it or I want it to be taken care of.

I want it to learn. Of course, most patterns we’re following are widely shared across people. But I want, and need, that technology learns small subtleties like my love for bath or my need for fresh beer.

I want to remain the master. After all, I still want to choose what I do, whether it’s eating a double whopper completely drunk on a Tuesday or over heating my apartment.

I want it to be upgradable. Technology changes and fades within years if not months, house do not. This is one of the biggest challenge of the IoT as the product lifecycle of smart devices and software are completely different from the life cycles of cars or housing. Therefore smart devices must be thought differently, making the iconic more than disposable and meant to end at the bottom of your trash can.

Making us more human

We might fear that technology might take away our humanity. I don’t agree. We have glorified things that keep us busy but I’m fully Ok with giving away most of these things to smart devices.

Each minute I can save from shopping groceries, paying bills, or parking my car is a minute I’d be able to enjoy spending time with friends, learning new things, creating new ones or just enjoying doing nothing.

To all smart device makers, take my hassle, take my money and shut up.

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