From Annihilation Earth to A Quiet Place, Pacific Rim to Edge of Tomorrow, The film industry’s elaborately fictitious presentations of 2020 have often been pretty grim, typically featuring monsters or alien invasions, being fought with equally elaborate technology such as giant battle mechs and advanced robotic exosuits. Where’s my exosuit? Probably in the garage next to the hoverboard and self-tying shoelaces from 2015…
However, for a more reserved, optimistic portrayal of home-life in Twenty Twenty, we may look no further than a 1989 episode of the classic British TV show Tomorrow’s World.
CEO of Applied Futures, Christine MacNulty proposed “People will want all the benefits of modern technology but without all the cluttered and complex gadgetry that we have today.. We’ll have things under control without all of these knobs and buttons. And what’s more, the technology itself will be embedded in the very fabric of the house and its furnishings.”
Minimalism was the answer. No wires, no mess. Let’s be honest, few people really enjoy cable management.
Just how close were their predictions to what we have today? What have we achieved, and what is still science fiction? Of their suggestions for the home, four main advantages were put forward.
Lighting that would switch on or off as you walked between rooms.
Thanks to the humble Passive Infrared (PIR) Sensor, this has been achievable for some time, when linked to either a conventional lighting control system, or more recent “smart” domestic applications with hub & app based setups like Phillips Hue & Hive. Actions can be programmed to respond to movement, which are then recalled when you are detected by the sensor. Box Ticked.
Music controlled by voice.
Alexa, Google and Siri have become literal household names. We talk to them everyday, with monotonous questions such as requesting a weather update, who was in that offbeat rom-com from 2006, and broadcasting music to a smart speaker with services such as iTunes, Spotify, Tunein and Google Play. We’re 2 for 2.
Charging devices through pads that drew power from the walls, instead of fixed socket outlets.
Ok, this is where the predictions started to get a little “ahead” of themselves. Sadly we haven’t reached the stage where the walls of our homes are live and conductive, and probably for good reason. (Your local H&S officer would like a word with you.) However, wireless charging is here, through the wonders of electromagnetic induction. The feature is available most notably with modern mobile phones, as well as some smartwatches and laptops. The ability to freely place your device on a pad and watch the battery percentage increase still feels like something out of Star Trek to me.
Turning your window into a TV or computer screen.
Now this definitely sounds far-fetched. A window-sized screen that could transform into a television, artwork or even be camouflaged as part of the wall? Well, since 2015, Companies like Samsung and LG have demonstrated see-through OLED displays, and Panasonic has been working to develop a fully fledged consumer TV, using LG’s 55″ transparent OLED panels. In this video from 2016, What appears to be a shelving unit with glazed front becomes a solid visual display when activated. Early production models were teased for this year. It might not be the size of your window, but it’s an impressive step closer.
So if these were the big predictions for 2020, what are my predictions for say, 2050? what advantages could we see in 30 years time?
With the continued threat of global warming and finite mineral resources, the continued development of renewable energy has to be at the forefront of generating domestic power. It’s already quite common to see solar panels on the roofs of people’s homes, but what about the family run-around? Could further advances in photovoltaic cells give “Hybrid” a whole new meaning?
A company called Lightyear has been working on a prototype vehicle called the “Lightyear One”, unveiled last year. Similarly, Toyota, Sion and Hyundai are also investing into solar vehicle research, whilst Tesla’s Cybertruck will be fitted with panels to extend the achieved mileage by up to 15 miles. Perhaps in 30 years time these would be the new choice of the Uber driver…
Ok, how about something more blue-sky.. commercially ready thought-based smart tech? The ability to ask about tomorrows weather, or what time your favourite film is on, without verbalising it, and getting an answer. Or, controlling lights and appliances by thinking about it? Finally, we would be done with cables, wires and most of all “hubs”, those little boxes with lights that now litter our living rooms, feeding frantically from our wifi networks? Well it might not be as blue sky as you think. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, have created a mind-reading device that also turns mental activity into text with better than 90% accuracy. Carnegie Mellon University research has found ways to read “complex thoughts“ based on brain scans, and output text accordingly. The university’s study demonstrated that complex thinking could enable its A.I. to predict the next “sentence” in the thought process. More concerning is that Facebook’s clandestine Building 8 division is working on a way for users to send Facebook Messenger messages using thoughts alone… Scary stuff.
But do all of these advances come at a cost? Is smart technology only as smart as the person controlling it, especially if its left to the very mind of the user? What would the support system look like? Would someone have to tap into your thoughts to understand the issue you were experiencing. Or is this all a front for advanced data mining? In an ecosystem where scandals of Cambridge Analytica wax lyrical with an increasing commonality of applications wanting access to your files, folders, contacts and emails, how far does it all go?
Perhaps I’ll just settle for a robot butler.