Smart Home: Big Brother or Big Butler?

Smart Home: Big Brother or Big Butler?

Do you remember Tom Cruise in the Hollywood blockbuster „Minority Report“ as he elegantly moved and manipulated giant holograms in space with his special gloves? Though it was a revolutionary vision of the future at the time in 2002, today it’s a reality. And though we don’t control floating holograms with a flick of our hand, we do to operate almost all electronic devices in the home and office. And we don’t even need gloves since a smartphone or tablet usually does the trick. But what does this brave new world of technology bring where we can do so much with a single swipe of a finger? Is intelligent technology really always as sensible as the electronics industry would have us believe?

The technical innovations that help us save energy are practical in all cases. For example, if the heating communicates with the window and automatically turns itself off because of the air ventilation. The required smart home system whose server automatically determines the heating, security systems and living comfort are much easier to install than before thanks to advanced wireless technology. They’re also much less expensive than the older wired systems. There are already options on the market for less than 1,000 euros.

That data is transmitted by radio is admittedly a disadvantage. Some are a bit weary of „electric smog“ even though smart home components only transmit for a few seconds. In many cases, the transmission range is so limited that the so-called repeaters or amplifiers must be used.

The issues of data privacy and security are certainly hotly contested. How safe are the systems from hacking attempts? Virtual burglars still haven’t discovered the smart home as a lucrative sphere of activity but that’s probably because there are too few networked homes. At least equipment manufacturers are aware of the problem which is why all quality providers rely on encryption technologies. Some manufacturers even allow hackers to detect security loopholes in their systems to be one step ahead of the criminals. Areas prone to vulnerability are primarily devices with unencrypted communication to the server though a connection to Internet TV can also be a gateway of cyber crime. That’s why it is important to purchase smart home components that meet the highest possible safety standards.

Of course it’s convenient, but perhaps it isn’t always necessary to have every comfort feature available in a networked home. An example scenario: just before the alarm clock wakes you up in the morning, the coffee machine turns on in the kitchen and automatically brews your „good morning drink.“ In the bathroom, radio music starts playing from built-in speakers and after showering, the towels are cosy and warm because the bathroom radiator started heating early. All that’s left is to get dressed, savour your fresh cup of coffee and eat breakfast. With car keys in hand, you can press the „everything off switch“ next to the front door to stop unnecessary electricity from being used, turn the heating on ‚away‘ mode and activate the alarm system. The electric car is already waiting with a full tank of gas by the on-site mini power station in the garage. Before leaving, take a quick peek at your mobile to make sure all windows are properly closed and no other warning message appears. With that, you’re off to another day of work!

By the way, many of these amenities don’t require that the entire house is part of a network – a modern coffee maker, for example, can run all by itself. Because now many new household appliances are programmable and can be operated using an app. Even those who don’t own their own special smart home system can more or less „network“ their home. Which of these many options you would really like to use is something you should and must decide for yourself. Finally, supply and demand regulate the market. A good example is the automatic shopping refrigerator that flopped because hardly anyone wanted to become dependent on their refrigerator. It’s hardly a surprise – a house where big brother monitors its residents is anything but desirable.


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