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Elon University and the Pew Research Center Publish The Future of Smart Systems Report (23/7/2012)
By 2020, experts think tech-enhanced homes, appliances, and utilities will spread, but many of the analysts believe we still won’t likely be living in the long-envisioned ‘Homes of the Future’
Hundreds of tech analysts foresee a future with “smart” devices and environments that make people’s lives more efficient.
But they also note that current evidence about the uptake of smart systems is that the costs and necessary infrastructure changes to make it all work are daunting. And they add that people find comfort in the familiar, simple, “dumb” systems to which they are accustomed.
Some 1,021 Internet experts, researchers, observers, and critics were asked about the “home of the future” in an online, opt-in survey. The result was a fairly even split between those who agreed that energy- and money-saving “smart systems” will be significantly closer to reality in people’s homes by 2020 and those who said such homes will still remain a marketing mirage.
In answering the question, some experts were fairly optimistic. “Homes will get more efficient because it will cost more and more to waste energy – the devices will become simpler because no one likes being outsmarted by their thermostat,” said David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Others foresee benefits in smart mobile systems that extend to realms such as healthcare. “In the next decade there will be huge demand for home medical alert systems, and the market will respond to that need – health will be a bigger driver than environmental issues,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google.
Others were more pessimistic. “Smart homes are on their way, but this development is being delayed – not so much by lack of trust as by lack of alignment of the key players—utilities, ISPs, manufacturers,” said Charlie Firestone, executive director of the Communications and Society Program at the Aspen Institute.
Their responses were gathered in response to these scenarios. Some 51% of the respondents in this opt-in, non-representative canvassing agreed with the statement:
By 2020, the connected household has become a model of efficiency, as people are able to manage consumption of resources (electricity, water, food, even bandwidth) in ways that place less of a burden on the environment while saving households money. Thanks to what is known as “smart systems,” the Home of the Future that has often been foretold is coming closer and closer to becoming a reality.
Some 46% agreed with the opposite statement, which posited:
By 2020, most initiatives to embed IP-enabled devices in the home have failed due to difficulties in gaining consumer trust and because of the complexities in using new services. As a result, the home of 2020 looks about the same as the home of 2011 in terms of resource consumption and management. Once again, the Home of the Future does not come to resemble the future projected in the recent past .
A majority of the most-detailed written responses to the question cited difficult obstacles that are not likely to be overcome quickly. Those responses are compiled in a new report produced by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
“The barriers that were most cited by respondents included the high costs of retrofitting existing homes and infrastructures and the fact that leading industry players may not see enough profit in smart systems,” noted Janna Anderson, director of the Elon Center and a co-author of the study. “Some said people will not want top-down monitoring of their resource consumption – that smart grids can be seen as an intrusion on privacy and a potential threat to individual freedom. A few said ‘dumb’ homes are easier to live in than ‘smart’ ones.”
The survey respondents also noted that getting all of the systems behind the networked smart home to work together is much more difficult than it might seem. “The experts pointed out the high level of complexity involved in smart systems,” said report co-author Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet. “They said the large hurdles to overcome include getting the various players to agree to standardize communication across sectors of consumer products and making the right moves in regard to oversight of regulation and the provision of incentives to encourage positive change.”
This is the fifth report generated out of the results of a Web-based survey fielded in fall 2011. It gathered opinions on eight Internet issues from a select group of experts and the highly engaged Internet public. Details can be found here:
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