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Microsoft Upgrades Technology

Microsoft's Home Of Tomorrow Has No Bathroom 505

Starman9x writes "Over at the The Toronto Star reporter Rachel Ross got a tour of Microsoft's home of the future. She writes with an appropriate amount of humor, given all the easy targets Microsoft has set up. While the writeup is light and witty, there is an unspoken Orwellian undertone to it -- after all, do we really want Microsoft to have that much control over things?"
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Microsoft's Home Of Tomorrow Has No Bathroom

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  • ...used to be a lot more fun?

    MIT Does []. Their "home of the future," contains a translucent, power-generating roof, evoluationary adaptation, thermal-fiber walls, Just-in-time persuasive user interfaces... Many of them are concepts in hard prototyping by MIT affiliates.

    Many of the ideas are revolutionay. Some are evolutionary. All are far more practical than scanning a can of soup on the theory that the microwave will know how long to cook that UPC. Or having a computer figure out what you are trying to cook through radio tags, and read you the meaningful portions of recipes found online.

    All of these ideas are extensions of existing technology, assuming they can solve the single most difficult task in computing: deriving meaning from natural circumstances (in 3 to 7 years, as MS optimistically says).

    This reminds me of a Wired (print) article from several years back. XML was going to save the PDA! No longer were you going to need to coordinate your schedule with your doctors: your Palmpilot could do such automatically for you through templating. MS suggests a similar solution, saying that all templated legal contracts could be fast-tracked for approval.

    I don't buy this at all. Templates have proven very adept at assisting humans in classifying external data into something a computer can be programmed to work with, but has proven far more tricky to allow computers to make real-world exchanges based upon templated data, or the classification of real-world circumstances into said templates. How would your computer know to call a "factory contact" for a "factory" whose robots can do the "quick caulking" necessary for the production of the "wigit plus"? Someone would have to painstakingly sit down and template all of that info in, along with the interrelationship between other data. How would your microwave know how long to cook your soup for? Because someone programmed it to.

    That's all the house of the future is, in this demo... an infinitely programmed extension of the regular house... so unnecessarily programmed that nobody is going to do it. Listen to what your friend is listening to in his / her house? If you ask them to stream it, it's no problem. But automatically? Why would someone program that? Why would someone build a perpetually out-of-date database of information on UPC labels for microwavable foods? How would someone attempt to program the interrelationships between suppliers and companies, so that any need on your part is automatically satisfied? How would Microsoft, champion of open standards, help create a situation where disparate databases could be merged to create reliable metadata? When was the last time Exchange or Word shook hands and played nicely with anything let alone everything?

    This is a really sad state, when the house of the future is identical to the house of the present except that it is programmed to take over the trivial tasks that never bothered people anyway. How about an Aibo with a broom for a head? Floors that automatically warm up in the morning? Little lazer guided waterguns autotargeting bad kitties on the furnature? Any of these significantly more useful and more interesting concepts would be vastly easier to create than a computer's context sensitive capability realizing that the moon-jumping cow is the crux of the story and significant enough to warrant a picture search-and-display. Assuming that we managed to handle the speech recognition enough to understand a person reading in a natural context, and embewed computers with a sense of narrative flow, the are-you-feeling-lucky google link for "the cow jumped over the moon" is for a 1999 documentary by Christopher Walker about the Fulani nomads of West Africa, perhaps not the image closest to the heart of children when reading Mother Goose.

    I really hope no people of significant influence buy into this hype. At MIT, they are working on a system of automated design tools for the mass customization of housing []. MS is promising that your notebook will automatically flip to "presentation mode" when you enter a meeting, without you having to go through the hassle of opening the right folder. And the MIT project is not only functionally significantly easier and financially less burdensome than the "presentation mode" context sensitive relevance cognizant GPS+ and calendering laptops, but it is also the sort of fun thing you want in a house of the future demonstration. "You can shut off Johnny's music without having to actually turn off the stereo," just doesn't have the same ring as "It's like the sims, but you keep the house."


  • by surprise_audit ( 575743 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:44AM (#5221305)
    Did nobody else see this paragraph?

    If their friends are online, they can join in to their "music session" and listen to whatever tune is playing at their house. (The Recording Industry of America, a music industry trade group that got their knickers in a knot over file swapping software such as Napster, is going to love that feature.)

    I swear, I laughed out loud!

  • Re:Reality TV! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Bzap ( 597713 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @05:13AM (#5221511)
    I hate to tell you this, but in Norway there actually -is- a reality show about the elderly, showing right now :) ("Eldrebølgen")

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama