Why my new home won’t be “smart”

(And with this cross-post from LinkedIn, the blog returns from its break.. I tried LinkedIn as a publishing platform for a while, but with more than half of the posts there experiencing issues of not being visible or comments not showing up, I’m giving up on them and returning here.)

I’ve always considered myself as a technologist and a bit of a geek. Given that, I thought that if I ever build a house, I’ll have smart this and smart that, everything remotely controllable and all that. Now that I would have the opportunity to do that, I am surprising myself with my decisions on smart home gear: I am essentially getting none of it.

Why? Two main reasons:

1) Lack of net benefits.

2) Security and privacy issues.

Let’s tackle the security first; the more I have dug into security over the years, particularly in the “Internet of Things” domain, the less convinced I am that anyone, anywhere – exaggerating only slightly – knows what they are doing. It’s gotten to the point where I predict the whole IOT/IOE visions to result in a variety of security-related tears unless the priorities change quite fundamentally – and it’s even worse in the consumer space, where short product life cycles and a generally blasé attitude to security aren’t exactly helping.

What it comes down to is that I don’t trust the providers to keep things secure – because, to a large degree, they cannot. On that, this is a great introduction to why it’s next to impossible: Everything is Broken by Quinn Norton.

Loosely related to security is privacy. What I trust even less is that the providers of all that smart home gear would keep my data private and not abuse it. So I won’t even give them the data to begin with.

Another big problem are the net benefits, or lack of them. It’s not so much that all the smart home gear is useless, but it imposes additional actions on the users I don’t want to deal with. In other words, I don’t see significant net benefits from the available smart home stuff. The costs, not just monetary but in terms of time, outweigh the benefits. One of the main issues here is that much of it is designed to give the users more control over something. Very few products are designed to work in the background, or do it sufficiently well for me to trust them to do their things how I want it done. They’re just not smart enough yet.

Take the state-of-the-art smart thermostat, Nest. It’s not designed for you to constantly play with, it’s designed to learn your habits and self-adapt, work in the background. Sounds good, right? It does, but I don’t trust it enough to try it. The reasons? First, most of the time I won’t need any heating or cooling in the house. Sometimes I want to cool it when the temperature hits +30C (e.g. when coming in from a run), but at other times I’m happy to let it hit +35C. In winter, I may want to turn on heating at +15C, but when the daytime high will be over +30C, I’d prefer to have a cold night and morning. I obviously haven’t lived with it, but would Nest be smart enough to do all that and more? I doubt it.

There are a host of other issues as well – such as the poor availability of some products in Australia (vs USA in particular) and lack of faith in continued support in what is a fast-developing field and/or small players. Much of smart home-stuff is integrated to the building to a greater or lesser extent, and I don’t want to have to change it every two years when someone goes out of business. A bit of a chicken and egg-problem, I know.

So my new home will be a Luddite. It’ll be environmentally sustainable, comfortable all year, energy-efficient, practical and above all liveable.

But it will not be “smart”.

I’ve done a fair bit of research into what’s available and reached the above conclusions, but I’m always happy to be convinced otherwise and hear suggestions if you think something is a “must have”.

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