Keeping up with the Jetsons to remain iffy into 2020


The jury is still out on just how “smart” homes will become by the end of the decade, but the consensus is for the home to remain, well, pretty dumb for now.

While some internet experts and users believe the home of the future will be a model of internet connected efficiency by 2020, nearly an equal number say consumer distrust and not-so-user-friendly interfaces will leave homes pretty much as dumb as they are now.

However, when the experts were pressed to elaborate on their yay or nay choice, even those who were positive about the furture of the smart home often gave negative responses.

“Because the written elaborations are the meat of this research report and the vast majority of them poked holes in the ideal of smart systems being well-implemented by individuals in most connected homes by 2020, this report reflects the naysayers’ sense that there are difficult obstacles that are not likely to be overcome over the next few years,” according to Pew Internet’s “The Future of Smart Systems.”

The study tapped 1,021 experts, researchers, observers and critics to talk about the “home of the future” in an on-line, opt-in survey and found respondents nearly evenly split on the topic – at first.

Experts think homes with tech-hyped appliances, and utilities will spread, but not to the point that homes will outthink their occupants.

Hundreds of techies foresee “smart” devices and environments that make people’s lives more efficient, but the costs and necessary infrastructure changes were deemed problematic.

And then there’s the human condition. People are already at home with familiar, less complex, “dumb” systems and change is daunting.

The survey posed two primary questions.

• Some 51 percent agreed with the statement: “By 2020, the connected household has become a model of efficiency, as people are able to manage consumption of resources (electricity, water, food, even bandwidth) in ways that place less of a burden on the environment while saving households money. Thanks to what is known as ‘smart systems,’ the Home of the Future that has often been foretold is coming closer and closer to becoming a reality.”

• Another 46 percent agreed with the statement: “By 2020, most initiatives to embed internet protocol (IP) enabled devices in the home have failed due to difficulties in gaining consumer trust and because of the complexities in using new services. As a result, the home of 2020 looks about the same as the home of 2011 in terms of resource consumption and management. Once again, the Home of the Future does not come to resemble the future projected in the recent past.”

Pressed to elaborate, respondents on both sides were more often negative about a smart home by the end of the decade.

Sample comments about technology in the home included those from:

• Charlie Firestone, executive director of the Communications and Society program at the Aspen Institute – “Smart homes are on their way, but this development is being delayed. Not so much by lack of trust as by lack of alignment of the key players – utilities, ISPs, manufacturers.”

• Donald G. Barnes, visiting professor at Guangxi University in China; former director of the Science Advisory Board at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – “Barriers include the following: economic weakness, economic uncertainties, building codes, lack of standardization, lack of oversight/regulation (which actually leads to an atmosphere of business confidence), lack of tested, mature technologies, and resistance from entrenched technologies.”

• Mike Leibhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future – “People have simply too much to do already to focus scarce attention on properly managing their resource consumption in fine detail. Also, people seem to resist the idea as invasive of smart grid top-down monitoring and control of resource consumption. Conservation technologies are promising, but behavior changes will be very slow.”

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