The Stepford House

N.b. — I started this post in January 2016. I finished it today. See the previous post for my reasons, and my apology.

In Altered States, the year is 2065. Here in 2016 2017, home automation is a burgeoning field, and domestic technologies are taking off in a very big way. With five decades of technological advancement, just imagine the possibilities…

In a previous post we discussed living object networks. Many homes in 2065 are controlled by a house “brain” — a computer running a domestic operating system, optionally augmented with an expert system or NVAI for richer or more tech-conscious households. This brain uses the living object network to speak with fixtures and appliances in the home, orchestrating them to make the owner’s domestic life as comfortable as possible.

Indoor Positioning System

A living home is constantly aware of its occupants. Thanks to the living object network, tagged devices are located with pinpoint precision at any time; but the house brain has an awareness of “dumb” objects as well with a preponderance of sensors. Every room has at least one sensor (generally a time-of-flight camera, the many-generational descendant of devices like the Kinect) for occupant recognition and gesture control. More advanced systems have one such sensor on each wall and another on the ceiling, for maximal capabilities — and those same sensors let it map out rooms and provide that data to any object that requires it.

With these and other sensors, the house brain can track the occupants’ location through the home, turning lights on and off to follow them, switching media from one room’s display to another, adjusting ventilation and temperature — constantly tailoring the home’s environment to its occupants. Expert systems and NVAI can monitor patterns of movement and recognise dangerous situations, alerting other occupants and/or emergency services if, say, a homeowner has fallen and broken a hip, or another occupant has fainted in the bath. Security systems are likewise enhanced as the house brain tracks unauthorised entry or who has taken something.

Wall-to-Wall Media Coverage

Standard video displays are flat and flexible, high-resolution but low power, and cheap enough to literally paste on like wallpaper. An entire living room wall can be covered with a video display for the price of a large modern television. More upscale models may include touch-sensitivity, tactile feedback, and sensor-fusion cameras. Cheap installations may be augmented by standard speakers; less modest ones may vibrate the entire wall or include sonic projectors to beam the ultimate in surround sound directly and privately to the listener’s ears.

In the modern home, at least one wall of each room — and often the ceilings as well — are media walls linked to the house brain, capable of displaying any data it has access to. In small but well-appointed apartments, every wall may be a media wall, displaying carefully tailored scenes to create the illusion of vast space. In either situation, the media wall is typically a primary interface to the house brain — and by extension is the gateway to the Internet for many.

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning

Central air is passé, seen as inefficient, inconvenient, and a poor investment. Virtually all modern systems are a refinement of the ductless “mini-split” system. Single external heat exchangers (typically a condenser for cooling and a geosolar pump for heating) pump coolant through space-efficient wall pipes to individual “zone” heat exchangers — typically one for each room of the house. Ventilation, too, is important; some cities are so heavily polluted that chain-smoking is better for you than breathing the unfiltered air! Most homes are better-sealed than the present day, and air is forced through a single intake filter stack, permeating the house and exhausted from individual zones through vents installed below or alongside windows and doors.

Each zone can be adjusted individually, independent of the other zones; some high-end systems even allow control of gradients within a zone, while cheap ones are limited to the entire system being locked into “cooling” or “heating” mode overall. In modest homes, this is scheduled or selected manually for each zone, but high-end installations will change presets based on who if anyone is currently in the zone. Expert systems and NVAI can respond dynamically based on the occupant’s mood or activities, and try and reconcile multiple people’s personal preferences.

Smart Appliances

Every modern appliance in the year 2065 has three basic expectations: * They must all accept standardised commands over the living object network, and advertise any non-standard commands they accept the same way. This allows the house brain to control them, and by extension allows the occupants to command them by voice or gesture interpreted by the house brain. * They must have some form of human-readable output capability: an integrated display (often indistinguishable from the skin of the device) that can output the device’s current status, alerts, etc. They must also output the same data and more over the living object network. * Storage must be able to describe its contents, and food storage must further be able to indicate that its contents have expired or otherwise gone bad.

Beyond that, appliances and furnishings have a tremendous variety.

Around The House

  • Smart lighting in every room can shine in any colour of the rainbow, or effortlessly mimic natural sunlight. The house brain will dim them, change the colour, and turn them on and off to match the preferences and presence of people in the room, and high-end systems will adjust dynamically to ensure they’re never glaring brightly into anyone’s eyes.
  • Smart mirrors are silvery and reflective like any other mirror — but can also function as both a camera sensor and stereoscopic video display, recording and replaying what they were reflecting, or re-mirroring their “reflected” image as if you were literally viewing it in person with no mirror distorting it.
  • Smart couches and similar seating have sensors to read their user’s body language and adjust the temperature, contour, and firmness or bounce of the cushions to maximize comfort. Recent models include self-cleaning fabrics that require nothing more than light dusting for maintenance, and high-end versions leverage the house brain to help predict what the user is going to find comfortable five minutes from now.
  • Smart beds are as capable as smart couches and optimised for the perfect night’s sleep. They can monitor your body temperature and motion through the night and maintain a comfortable environment, predict when you’re closest to waking up in the morning and sound a soft alarm to gently bring you the rest of the way, and can even let you know how well you slept that night. The same technologies can prevent bedsores and provide 247 monitoring for the invalid — and if used inventively, they add a certain je ne sais quoi to a couple’s night life.
  • Smart tables leverage the same displays found on walls and ceilings and build them into a horizontal surface for minimal cost. A smart table can display any data provided by the house brain, just like a media wall; the touch-sensitive surface can be used for writing or sketching without ink; and even the cheapest smart table includes a veritable host of boards, maps, and tokens in its onboard storage for a staggering variety of popular or obscure games — plus a wide selection of holiday decorations to enhance any special occasion. High-end models are programmable for every surface, not just the tabletop, to blend in with any decoration.
  • Even houseplants get an upgrade. While they themselves aren’t (yet) digitized, they’re often genetically engineered to thrive indoors — and the pots track nutrient and water levels, telling the house brain when it’s time to water and fertilize them.

In The Kitchen

  • Smart sinks and the smart taps installed in them offer precise temperature control of water, automatic shutoffs to avoid accidental burns and wastage, and recirculation jets to keep a full sink fresh and at a constant temperature. They can monitor the cleanliness of the water when you’re scrubbing up to ensure you’re not making things dirtier, and filter out and dispose of sludge that would otherwise form nasty clogs. Standard models use only the home’s hot water storage, but higher-end models augment that with on-demand heating systems at the tap for exact and responsive temperature control.
  • Smart ranges and smart ovens direct multiple kinds of electromagnetic energy from phased array surfaces directly into the food or cookware, allowing for perfect and even cooking much more rapidly than traditional methods, with minimal danger of accidental burns — as the only object that is substantially heated is the food or pan.
  • Smart dishwashers take kitchen automation to a whole new level: insert a dirty dish into the loading tray and the robotic mechanisms within take the dish and draw it in to be cleaned, leaving the tedious and error-prone step of loading the dishwasher properly to the computer. The exact cleaning mechanism varies, from standard high-pressure, high temperature water jets, to ultrasonic agitators and ultraviolet sterilizers.
  • Smart surfaces cover every countertop. Like smart mirrors or smart tables, these can display any data, from the current recipe you’re working on to guide-lines for chopping vegetables or rolling out dough. Smart counters can also report on their current cleanliness, letting you know if it’s safe to put food down on them without washing. They can also report the weight of food in dishes sitting on them — with a recipe loaded, you can simply pour until it tells you “when” for perfect measurements. Finally, they can adjust their temperature to suit the task at hand, from a gentle warmth for rising bread to a frosty chill for making candy or ice cream.
  • Small appliances get upgrades as well. With voice commands and their awareness of their contents and what their current attachment will do, you can command your food processor to chop coarsely or finely or your mixer to stir to a specific consistency, instead of specifying times.

In The Bath

  • Smart sinks in the bathroom have all the same features as your kitchen tap, whether you’re using the sink, tub, or shower.
  • Smart bathtubs are heated and offer recirculating filters to ensure your soak is never brought to an unwanted end by cold or dirty water, and cheap air jets can offer the jacuzzi experience in any size tub, while any worthwhile bath has a waterproof media wall positioned perfectly to watch from a relaxing soak.
  • Smart showers have multiple, mobile, programmable showerheads that can beat down with a relaxing, cleansing massage that never gets numbly repetitive, while steam jets can turn your shower stall into a personal sauna.
  • The smart toilet automatically cleans not only itself, but its user, with warm and gentle water jets and air dryers, relegating toilet paper to a historical footnote alongside chamber pots and outhouses. Smarter ones can analyse your waste for health problems. Plus — the seat never gets cold.
  • Bathroom appliances are just as smart as the rest of the house. The scale (now built into a floor tile) can track your weight through every visit. Your toothbrush tells you when your teeth are clean — and robotic ones simply require you to put it in your mouth and let it do the job for you. Likewise, robotic manicure sets can work on every finger simultaneously, quickly and efficiently.

The Future

The home of 2065 is fantastically equipped to nearly any resident of 2017. Even so, advances are hungrily watched by mavens of technology — memory materials might make any given piece of furniture capable of disappearing into the very walls or floor when not needed. Advances in superconductors might make floating furniture possible — and science fiction still dreams of antigravity beds where the user simply floats sleepily in mid-air.

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