Streaming Media
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Autumn 2014
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The Disconnected Home: The House of the Future Needs Re-Booting
Connected technology is brilliant -- until it isn't. When everything that can go wrong does, home is no longer as safe as houses.

1 April 2021

I should have realised something was wrong as soon as I got back home and reached for the front door.

Instead of “knowing” I was home (from my phone’s location info) and opening the door for me as usual, my connected home automation system had gone wrong.

All the virtual machines in each of my devices around the home boot an image based on a MAC address lookup from a central image server. The MAC address database had got corrupted and out of sync, so all the wrong images were being sent to boot up on wrong devices.

The door latch ended up with the electric toothbrush’s OS. When I tried the door it not only unlocked, but locked again and unlocked, locked, unlocked ... buzzing furiously at me when I pushed harder. Thankfully, it quickly wore through the lock and sprung open.

Inside it was mayhem.

All my appliances were trying desperately hard to perform functions that belonged to other appliances. Domestic cloud chaos.

The kitchen was crazy: the fridge had booted up thinking it was the oven; it was making a noise like a steam engine trying to reach 200 degrees Celsius and cook everything inside.

The cooker top was going crazy. Each of the cooker rings was flashing on and off in a logical but complex pattern, and it took me a while to realise that it had taken on the software of the games console’s dance mat. It was flashing the halogens in the right foot placement patterns to groove to some hideous 1980s disco hit.

I needed coffee, so I hit the on switch on the machine. The espresso arm lifted (don’t ask how the robotics had got confused too) and moved over to touch the rim of the coffee cup, which started to revolve at 45 rpm -- clearly the coffee machine had booted up with the record player software. (Yes, record players had a “retro cool” comeback in 2019 and had IP too.)

OK, something stronger then. I opened the wine chiller, which instantly fired out four bottles at high velocity, exploding them on the wall opposite. I later realised that the chiller had ended up with the tennis ball machine stack loaded. Never tried volleying a white wine at 90 mph. Pretty hard to return that service.

Making it to the living room, I waved my arm at the Kinect to bring up the TV. The Kinect must have booted up with the toaster’s OS -- it winked at me and then started to smoke gently from the top.

In the living room, the TV wasn’t a TV in its own mind at all. It had booted up with the garage door OS and was going to town adjusting its position up and down trying to open to let my car into its void. Brilliant.

Just then I heard a voice. It was coming from the cupboard under the stairs.

When the voice was interrupted by music, I realised that the TV programme I wanted to see was running on some device under the stairs. I gingerly opened the cupboard door and peeked inside.

There, in a glorious 1" display, rendered using just the pilot light, was my programme playing on the boiler’s inspection window. The sound was coming from the robotic hoover, which had clearly booted up with the amplifier and speaker logic.

Pulling up a nondigital chair, I sat down and squinted at the tiny image and resigned myself to this being an unusual occurrence. I resolved to fully reboot the house as I left for work in the morning.

Despite all this, I repeatedly told myself, this connected home technology is life-changing and convenient.

As I lay down that night (on the nondigital spare bed for safety because my main bed was folding in half, trying to make a panini), I fell asleep pleased that modern society had truly integrated technology into my life in such a useful way. Thank goodness for progress, eh?

This article first appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Streaming Media European Edition under the title "The Disconnected Home."