Picture this: The year is 2009. You are sitting on your couch in Crocs and an Abercrombie sweatshirt, flipping through the channels on your television for something to watch. You land on Disney Channel, just in time to catch the beginning of the iconic 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie, Smart House. At first, you are amazed by the smart house’s ability to turn on the lights and cook meals, and you wish you had your very own smart home. By the end of the movie, however, you find yourself a little relieved there is no computer with the power to take over your own house. When Smart House was released 20 years ago, the idea of an electronic butler was as much a thing of science-fiction as flying cars or time travel. However, with technology such as Amazon’s Alexa, the smart home is no longer a fictional concept.
For those unacquainted with the film, Smart House depicts the experience of two children and their widowed father. The family wins a contest and become the new owners of a smart home, controlled by an artificial intelligence system named Pat. At first, they enjoy the perks of being waited on by a digital housekeeper. However, when one of the children attempts to reprogram Pat with mothering qualities, she spirals out of control, trapping the family inside. Since this is a Disney Channel movie, the children are able to talk Pat into releasing them, and the smart house becomes functional again. Despite the happy ending, this entertaining children’s movie contains a relevant warning against the possible dangers of putting too much trust in technology.
In areas such as Black Diamond in Seattle, whole neighborhoods of smart homes are being constructed. These homes are equipped with Amazon’s Alexa technology, able to carry out tasks such as vacuuming, locking the doors and displaying surveillance camera feeds. Some of the houses even have Ring Video doorbells that record the entry and exit of all visitors.
These smart homes’ capabilities are only expanding and could be customized to each family’s needs, possibly one day reaching the level of holographic housekeeper Pat. If the demand for smart homes rises, household-running computer systems could become commonplace. But while it may sound incredibly attractive to allow technology to control your home, this may not be a harmless convenience.
For many people, a home is a safe place of refuge from the outside world; whether your home is a mansion or an apartment or a dorm room, there is something comforting about returning to your private space at the end of the day. These modern smart homes would eliminate a lot of the privacy associated with one’s own home. Having every aspect of one’s house connected to a computer generates an immense amount of data, from information as extensive as camera footage to as simple as light switch usage. All of that information is collected and sent back to the technology companies that run these homes, compiled into large databases to be used for their own monetary gain. If more people buy smart homes, increasing amounts of data would be created for companies to mine.
While it is exciting to see how far technology has grown to afford us many modern conveniences, it is also somewhat concerning. So much of our lives has been made available to the world, both knowingly through social media and unknowingly via user data collection. Most Americans already have a smartphone, tablet or computer, and every time we interact with this technology, we release immense amounts of personal information to companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon. Do we really want to start buying homes that make this invasive data collection process even easier for them?
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Veronica Eskander is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.