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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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  • 01753 567100 (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:06AM (#5220911)
    Now, cue the various comments complaining about this 'home of the future' just because Microsoft did it. It would be interesting to see what sort of thing Apple, Sun or Novell could come up in comparison ..

    More information on the Microsoft home is available here [] and here [].

    Oh, and .. first post?
  • by Motherfucking Shit ( 636021 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:06AM (#5220913) Journal
    From the article:
    Based on the biometric scan performed earlier, the house already knows who is there. So a list of Heath's favourite programs is displayed on screen. The show will pick up where she left off the last time she sat down to watch TV. The TV also has a message about grandma. According to the television, she is having a "normal day." Heath explains that the message is part of a larger system envisioned for senior care. Sensors in a retirement home, she explains, would monitor her activities to make sure everything's okay.
    Not only is this a bit over the top in my opinion, I also think it's downright scary. One company - gee, I wonder which company - with access to information about when you come in the door, how long you're at home, what time you leave, who stopped by while you were out and left you messages on your "doorbell notepad" (and perhaps the text of those messages)... And not only do they know all of this about you, they know all of this about grandma and are able to report it to you on your TV set. If they can send it to you, who else can they send it to? considering the security track record of certain companies, who else might have access the info without anyone even realizing it?

    Some of the tech outlined in the article would be convenient, I'll admit to that, but I just can't get comfortable with the idea of such an obvious and intrusive data-mining capability. My home is my sanctuary. It's one of few places - OK, these days it's the only place - where I feel I have any privacy. I wouldn't give that up, not even for convenience. Reading over the article, my primary reaction was "just because we can, doesn't mean we need to."

    I mean, seriously. If I want to know how grandma is doing at any given moment, I make a phone call; and if something happens to her, the nursing home calls me. The most anyone else can discern from this is that I'm calling a nursing home, or vice versa. With this "home of the future," I have an awful vision that as soon as the TV tells me that grandma has passed away, I'd suddenly start getting bombarded with commercials for casket makers and funeral homes.

    Aside from the privacy issue, I'm not so sure that the "smartness" of the system wouldn't get annoying. The article mentions that when the lady of the house comes home (identifying herself by a retinal scan), the lights come on and music starts playing because the house "knows" that's what she likes. What if she's in a bad mood and she doesn't want all this mojo going on? The TV supposedly knows what program listings to display when she turns on the TV, because it knows she's the one home. What if I'm home, too?

    I dunno. I can imagine a lot of possible snags with this and I've only been thinking about it for two or three minutes...
  • by Twirlip of the Mists ( 615030 ) <> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:08AM (#5220931)
    "A large number of people think (the solution to) productivity has been solved," explains Thomas Gruver, group manager for the Center for Information Work.

    Man, those Microsofters really do live in a different world. On what planet do they find people who think that they've got that productivity problem taken care of?
  • by l810c ( 551591 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:09AM (#5220938)
    They're givin us an hour to think up dump jokes.




    I guess we'll be takin the crash dumps in da kitchen.

    Be honest, how many times have you hit refresh since the article was posted?

  • by fuzdout ( 585374 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:10AM (#5220946) Journal
    All cool till you have several generations of people who grew up with this stuff and know no other way of life and all of a sudden a big wind storm and the power is *OUT*.

    Generators would be even more necessary than now :)

  • Only microsoft.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by havardi ( 122062 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:12AM (#5220972)
    Can you imagine trying to read a recipe overlaid upon the ingredients you are trying to cook with? Maybe display it on the wall or something, but to imagine your worksurface limited in such a fashion and call it convienience is simply absurd.
  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:14AM (#5220985)
    Not only is this a bit over the top in my opinion, I also think it's downright scary. One company - gee, I wonder which company - with access to information about when you come in the door, how long you're at home, what time you leave, who stopped by while you were out and left you messages on your "doorbell notepad" (and perhaps the text of those messages)... And not only do they know all of this about you, they know all of this about grandma and are able to report it to you on your TV set. If they can send it to you, who else can they send it to? considering the security track record of certain companies, who else might have access the info without anyone even realizing it?

    Unless the PATRIOT Act is repealed before these homes are built, "who else" means the federal government. Commercial entities are obligated to respond to subpoenas and are forbidden to even disclose the fact that they snitched on you.

    Once terrorism surrenders, we'll be back to normal.

  • Re:01753 567100 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Starman9x ( 634099 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:21AM (#5221023) Homepage Journal
    hmmm... yes, it is easy to dis it "just cuz microsoft did it", and to be honest, I'm not as thrilled today about that prospect as I would have been in, say, 1985 or so -- that was when I was just out of high school and thinking of all sorts of similar/neat things I would eventually want in my house. At that time I would not have cared whether it was "apple" or microsoft" or even "radio shack" that "implemented" them [things like a recipe lookup/display set up in the kitchen for instance] The "star trek" aspect of voice recognition [and subsequent on-the-fly voice output that "makes sense" would be insanely cool as well]

    But, the sad fact of the matter is that the "world has changed" since I was a young idealistic college freshman, and mircosoft, rightly or wrongly, has taken a position that differs from my "ideals" -- I'm the type that likes to tinker under the hood of the program, and I don't see Microsoft making all that easy to "tinker" when "the house of the future" does come around.


    p.s. (of a sort) there are several mentions of "Disney" in the article, as in the dark-ride/automated event type rides, but she missed the most obvious "Disney" parallel -- The Smart House" []

  • stupid house (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cebe ( 34322 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:43AM (#5221111) Journal
    These digital homes of the future will only be as smart as the owner. People will yell and scream and curse at their house just like they do to their printer. The main server that runs the whole party will require pretty good knowledge of computers. Unless of course, you are rich and have a 24 hour geek squad a phone call away. Technical difficulties will arise, upgrades will need to be done, and to do it yourself (economically) will require *wanting* to know the guts of the system. Not to mention, a bit of knowledge about whatever language is making everything tick. The interesting thing about these "future" homes is that they are just a concept right now. They will become widely built and used only if simplicity is pursued by the people designing and building them. Whoever comes up with a very simple GUI for some "master controls" that doesn't require every single appliance, light, alarm, and garage door opener to be compliant to only one protocol, or worse, MADE BY MS, will be a very rich person. Of course, the average /.'er could handle the 'super house' (and most likely would not let any other person put their muckers on the design and implementation of it), but the average 'i have 40 gigabytes of ram!' person won't be able to.

    More importantly, Microsoft doesn't have a single view of the future. The tours present possible scenarios, not a blueprint for product development.

    This is the most important part of the article. Not everyone will want *everything* that MS's digital home showscases... but customizability (is that a word?) of these future homes will be the key. Opting for the econopackage presented by your home builder would be a bad idea. A home owner would end up without enough features that they could make good use of, and too many things that they don't need, or worse, don't know how to work.

    It will be interesting to see how these become mainstream.
  • by Peterus7 ( 607982 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:45AM (#5221120) Homepage Journal

    All of the computer displays in the future house will be hooked up to a central computer that coordinates their activities. This is critical for broad-based features such as homework lock-down, which parents can use to disable TV, music and other home entertainment until the schoolwork is done.

    "That feature's not popular with teens," Heath says.

    You know kids would just find a way around that, to hijack the main computer for their own sinister uses while blaming it on gator or something.

  • by jdbo ( 35629 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:56AM (#5221161)
    I would absolutely _love_ to go through the future-office part of the tour:

    Gruver leads us down a darkened hallway of the office of the future while he sets the scene for the tour. I'm now an employee of Contoso, widget maker extraordinaire. To reinforce the point, Gruver motions to a computer display with several names listed on it, including my own. It's kind of scary. I have no idea how much a widget maker earns and I've got a family to support.

    As we watch a video message from a fellow employee, dramatic lighting and sound effects punctuate a high-speed storyline of corporate intrigue.

    Another ficticious firm, Fabricam, has announced the Widget Plus. It's better than the widget we have on the market and it could crush or financial dreams if we don't act fast.

    I feel my hatred for Fabricam bubbling up. I must defeat them!


    I get a message from another co-worker that Contoso's big cheese is slated to go on TV in two hours. He'd like to announce a new line of widgets too, one that's faster and cheaper than silly Fabricam's. We have such a widget in development but I'll have to find out if we have the facilities to speed up production so we can beat Fabricam to market.


    Just when we've solved the problem, a helpful employee chimes in with a video message telling us they don't have the right robots to get the job done on time.

    But wait, we've got enough time to sign contracts with other production facilities, with a few seconds left over to relay this info to our boss. A video window appears on the big screen. It's our boss on TV telling the world about our new line of better, cheaper widgets.

    Whew! We sure showed those guys at Fabricam!

    While the reporter certainly played up this aspect of the tour, the impression I get is that there's no aspect of MS's corporate culture that isn't touched by a hyper-competitive worldview. The fact that this shows up in the marketing of their "office of the future" would indicate that they feel this is something that anyone might identify with... which feels like a corporate-level unconscious manifestation, similar to automatic writing / free association.

    (smile already, I'm only part-serious.)

    What I can't decide whether this section of the tour is an amazing instance of idealized projection by MS's marketing staff, or an example of how a good marketing team can identify with situations completely unfamiliar to them (i.e. being genuinely threatened by a competitor).

    (yes, that was sarcasm...)

    Sure, I'm overstating the situation, and sure, their target audience for this tour is really high-level execs who - to some extent - are paid to view the world this way.

    Still, it's a pretty sad when even in the magical future the CEO schedules press conferences without having a clue as to what he's going to say; maybe MS should look into building futuristic, non-stupid executives.

    Oh well... here's hoping those fictional robots go on a fictional killing spree!
  • by Thomas Wendell ( 98443 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:57AM (#5221168)
    My wife and I are nerds and have designed automation into our home. We have systems for security, lighting control, media equipment control and HVAC all talking to each other via serial and Ethernet. We are programming everything ourselves, because we can and because we think we'll do a better job than anyone we could hire.

    We've been in the house for six months and haven't finished the lighting controls. It takes a while to figure out how you want things to work. Everything works reasonably well and some things are really cool.

    However, anything more complex than having a button that turns out all of the lights when you're ready to shutdown for the evening gets surprisingly subtle.

    For example, we programmed the system to automatically turn on the hall lights when we get home. The rule is simple enough, if this door opens, and it's between sunset and sunrise, turn on this light. But then, we have a warm winter and get a lot of bugs on the entry and when I take out the garbage, I turn off the light so the bugs don't swarm into the house, then open the door and the light comes back on!

    We easily fixed this, but what happens to tomorrow's consumers who buy a mass-produced system that tries to be a LOT more clever than what I just described and it goes wrong? These are the people who couldn't figure out to set the time on their VCR, who don't know how to turn off Word's autoformatting "features" and instead have to learn how to work around them. How are they going to live in a home that is complex beyond their comprehension and that does things they don't want and can't fix?

    The answer is they won't. This high-tech home automation for the masses is a fantasy. Software is going to have to get orders of magnitude better before it's even thinkable.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:41AM (#5221299)
    "Another ficticious firm, Fabricam, has announced the Widget Plus. It's better than the widget we have on the market and it could crush or financial dreams if we don't act fast."

    This is the business scenario that Microsoft came up with to demonstrate their office of the future niftiness. Most people would come up with "We have an innovative idea for a new product and we want to develop it, manufacture it, and bring it to market." Nope, these guys want to play off a script where someone else has something better and they need to crush them before they get crushed.
  • by josh crawley ( 537561 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:46AM (#5221315)
    You're right, it's a form of a rant. Still, these things bug me. The way I write is the way I understand.

    ---Dismembering a person to remove, e.g., their eyeballs, will not work to fool biometrics systems. A dead eyeball is noticeably dissimilar from a live one.

    It is to the person looking at the 'eyeball', but a computer is stupid. If the eye retinal pattern matches, which it should being either from a live person, or 'fresh'.

    ---And house thieves are much more likely to break a window than dismember you or even try stealing your keys. (But, then, you're much less likely to lose your eyeballs.)

    I wouldnt put that against thives who do armed thieving. They wouldnt care less. 1 dead victin is one less that'll squeal.

    ---Anyway, a handful of what you've said is true, especially re the reliability of such complex systems. You shouldn't have broached the, "this isn't new," argument, however.

    And why not? The integreation on that level is new, but the rest is mostly what we have now. All they seem to add is a lot of network glue along with tons of MS 'stuff'. I dont have any issues with the networking, but I have deep issues with the ideas of transaction loggings, GPS logging, and a bunch of other things.

    ---Almost every person that attacks from that angle is wrong or has missed the point. Or, as with you, both. What Microsoft proposes is an evolution of voice intercom systems, so this is entirely different from voice intercoms.

    They just add some form of rudimentary AI along with voice recognition. My personaly opinion is neither will come along without a bit of investment in evolving firmware (via fgpa's) or emulation of vastly complicated neural nets (perhaps ASIC's on pci like slots on 'main computer).

    ---This means you're wrong. And, anyway, the point wasn't, "Oh my fucking god, nobody's ever thought of these ideas before, we're brilliant and innovative!" It was the execution of the ideas; how they were all tied together and met the user's (hypothetical) needs.

    The way I see this 'integration is tons of sensors along with a database server . The HOME-OS creates order from the basic information along with basic inputs. All this is put inside a database, perhaps 1 table to 1 room. Once you do the hard part (data-handling within the database), the rest is Plug-n-Play. And knowing MS, they'll lock in most of the varibles so no normal users can handle them (in other words, NO custimisability).

    ---This is why it was setup as a HOME demo, and not a PRODUCT demo.

    I know. But things like these give you an idea where THEY want to be in X years. Look at these kind of things as early-warning detecters.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:58AM (#5221347)
    How is this any different than any World's Fair in the past? Are Slashdotters just upset about this because Microsoft actually has some ideas about the future?
  • by sanermind ( 512885 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @04:03AM (#5221357) which the current dumb-user-centric model has ascended to the point that it begins to conquer volition and personal descision making. The computer tells you what ingrediants to pick in the kitchen, it worrys about how many guests you have, and then tells you a recipie apropos to them... perhaps, soon enough, an earpiece will tell you what to say to them...

    This level of automation is only apropriate to the mentally handicapped or infirm! Computers are wonderfull things, if you want to understand them and tell them to solve a problem... but if ms's ideal vision of the future is a world in which you are incapable of deciding on your own what to do, a world of insurgent 'user friendliness' to the point that the computers are directing our behavior [in a socially usefull and constructive way, no doubt] instead of using them as tools... it's ugly, and it's the ultimate fulfillment of user-friendliness. I just can't wait for the 'so I'm a women now' birds and the bees wizards to instruct parents and children on that special path of adolescance [only $99.95 for this special upgrade pack!]
  • tech of the future (Score:5, Insightful)

    by t_parker16 ( 154804 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @04:28AM (#5221419) Journal
    methinks the computerized home of the future is more about technology "fading into the background", making things more convenient but in an unobtrusive way; not the technology being the centerpiece of a "gee whiz" kind of house that would appeal most to a 14-year-old.

    but maybe its just the dissonance between a "showcase house of the future", where tech is the centerpiece, and the tech we all really will want and/or need.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @05:43AM (#5221596)
    Taking messages at the door? Nobody comes to my house unannounced anyway.

    Who, in the future, is going to go all the way over to a friend's house and only when they arrive check if they are in??

    The only possible function for a device that takes message at your door is for people you don't know and who have no other way to reach you. That's right, a whole new way to get spam! Thanks Microsoft!
  • by neuroticia ( 557805 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {aicitoruen}> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @06:00AM (#5221646) Journal
    Not necessarily. Certain elements of the "House of Tomorrow" are prototypes, or currently-working technologies that are merely faking the "futuristic" technologies that MS hopes are to come. Like the barcoder-scanner-microwave. Yeah you could do it, but you'd have to manually program in each barcode and tell the microwave how long it would take to cook--I think that MS's vision is that the microwaves or cans would come with that information and remove the manual element. Granted, if you had the cash you could hire a thousand monkeys to catalog your favorite canned delights. Although, I should hope that if you had that type of money you'd opt for a great cook instead.

    Certainly you could duplicate everything that MS did, and even take it further--but the primary purpose of the "House of Tomorrow" isn't to demonstrate technology so much as it is to hint at what's to come. Like the article said--not everything is working perfectly just yet, and all of it would be more trouble to implement than it would be worth. I think the point of the whole thing is that the technology is becoming easier to deploy, things are becoming more automated and accepted in common culture, and people are becoming more accepting of technology in the household and less paranoid about the possibilities of having so much intelligent machinery around. Prices are also dropping, which means that these technologies are within the grasp of those with a few paltry millions, making the major stumbling block the IMPLEMENTATION and CHOREOGRAPHY between the parts, and not the cost, or even (ultimately) the basic technologies behind it all.

  • by ToastedBagel ( 638204 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @07:59AM (#5221865)
    Whether you'd like it or not, Microsoft put great effort in various critical areas (desktop, browser, office suite, etc.) in computing and they've succeeded. We gotto admit that Bill Gates knew what he was doing. But in areas which people appreciate aesthetics, MS has such poor taste. They are really "Geek" that way.

    Off topic, but speaking of aesthetics I recall that Bill Gates was trying to show off some gadget like watch at some conference a little while ago, but people who spend money to buy expensive watches do not want it ever. He's probably never tried out something like Armani (absolutely beautiful watch), though he can afford it. Watch is not just about keeping time; it's fashion and it's about aesthetic as well.

    House is not just about functioning, either. House is not a big geeky gadget. Bill Gates does not get it. He's probably not really into exquisite furniture, which is OK. If he wants to stay lame, that's his choice. But the point is that some things are not just about 0s and 1s, and MS doesn't seem to get it.
  • Not so Promising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KalenDarrie ( 320019 ) <jwatkins41.cox@net> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @09:34AM (#5222218)
    Chuckles aside, I don't really feel comfortable with the idea of an automated house. Concerns about Microsoft and having their software running my home aside(I would never buy a Microsoft house), the prospect of having thigns adjusted when someone enters is potentially annoying. What if lights turn on or off or adjust level of illumination while you're doing something. What if someone prefers to have metal blasting when they come in and you happen to be next to the speakers when they open the door.

    Sure, small problems but there is more. One of the common themes in science fiction is the one where human technology has risen in scope and scale, reducing the need of people to work or move. It should be obvious, by comparing the different strata of technology across the world, that the ease created by technology creates a general laziness within a population. As nice as conveniences could be, I can only see many of them creating more sloth and laziness amongst the population.

    Not to mention the prospect of a wired, net active house being co-opted by hackers. Don't be so naive as to think that security would be so seriously improved as to make hacking impossible. Technology increases on all fronts. I wouldn't relish the prospect of hackers gaining control of environmental functions and other parts of a wired in house. Imagine the water periodically going frosty as you shower. Chilling thought, eh?

    I will admit that some things, such as biometric access and a little digital notepad on the door are interesting and much more useful than harmful. But everything has a point of excess, where too much of a good thing sours it. We should be careful about having too much tech.
  • by TheConfusedOne ( 442158 ) <> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @10:41AM (#5222631) Journal
    The first problem is that you wouldn't be able to close the door. Anyone could walk in and build on a new addition (though they'd have to post the floorplans for it outside so all can see).

    Actually, Gentoo house is a forest. Compile the lumber yourself.

    I wonder how far into the absurd we can descend with this thread.
  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @12:44PM (#5223533) Homepage Journal

    But one thing your forgetting is that the homeowners of the future will be those kids the parents are asking for help with that dumb VCR. As a member of that people group (I'm 16) I can tell you the geek to jock ratio is looking better all the time.

    As a member of the group that thought exactly the same almost 20 years ago when *I* was the geek hacking on my little computer and fixing the VCR for my parents, I can tell you that you're wrong. Human nature hasn't changed and won't change. It's not that people are too dumb to figure out how to set their VCR clock (most of them, anyway), it's that people don't have time or the intellectual energy to deal with crap that doesn't just work. Most people aren't "fiddlers" by nature, and it's only those of us who *enjoy* messing with crap like that who are willing to do it.

    Heck, even those of us who like it get tired of it. I have nine or ten computers in my home, run my own mail and web servers, have a wireless network, etc., because I think it's fun. But, you know what? It's also fragile as hell (or at least it often seems that way) and I'm getting tired of screwing with it all. I rarely go more than three or four months without some sort of a problem. Even though most of the machines run Linux and are pretty trouble-free (the one Win2K box gives me more trouble than the rest of them put together), I still end up having to fight with problems with the mail server (which is used by about 30 people as their primary e-mail, so when it has problems I'm in trouble), or my VPN connection to the office goes down, or the mobo in my desktop starts flaking out, or I have to go tweak my firewall and intrusion detection system to make sure I'm not going to get hacked, or the printer sharing stops working, or my wife's USB wireless network adaptor flakes out and takes the USB mouse with it, or ... I'll stop here, but I could go on for pages. And then there's the huge pile of stuff that I'd still like to make all of this equipment do -- but after writing code for ten hours a day, I need time to keep up with all of the other crap I have to do (matter of fact, I've got to go fix the snowblower now; oh, and that tub drain is still leaking), *and* I'd really like some time to spend with my wife and kids, etc., plus indulge myself a bit in other things I enjoy.

    So, my VCRs blink 12:00, and my kernels run untuned, and my IDS logs go unreviewed while I take my kids ice skating. I dread those mornings when my wife (ever so innocently) asks "Honey, is the internet down? I can't get to" because I know I have a crapload of work to do this morning and don't have time to futz with it.

    Now suppose *everything* in my house had the same level of complexity. <shudder>

Fear is the greatest salesman. -- Robert Klein