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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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  • by Twirlip of the Mists ( 615030 ) <> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:11AM (#5220964)
    Man, chill out. The demo described is just a proof of concept. It's designed to show all the various technologies that are, or will be, available. I don't think anybody expects that every house will have every feature.

    Biometrics for entry? Pff. I have no problem whatsoever with the current key-and-garage-door-opener system.

    Taking messages at the door? Nobody comes to my house unannounced anyway.

    Barcode reader in the microwave... maybe. I'm not much of a TV-dinner kind of guy, myself, but that might almost be useful. Maybe. If you're in college, and your dorm room is so equipped. Maybe.
  • Re:Oh great... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by l810c ( 551591 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:13AM (#5220973)
    This home beams porn on the walls.
  • by josh crawley ( 537561 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @02:20AM (#5221019)
    Ugh. Microsoft house. Other than the obvious "Security comments" and pissNshit
    jokes, lets get down to some seriousness. And by the way, what's with ChrisD NOT allowing comments on creation??

    ---Visitors to the house can leave a message via the touch-screen monitor built
    into the exterior wall or record a message if no one's home.

    What?? We already have voice intercomms, and some have a rudimentary X-10-like
    cam in there. Other than being a node on a network, what's soo special? Hell,
    I've even speced up a security network using Linux and such tools. ...demonstrates how a resident might enter using a retinal scanner instead of a
    key. Any such biometric screening device could be used...

    Retinal, yeah, but what about "Any biometric device"? If it's a hand print,
    gelatin (thanks to the japanese guy who 'found' it out). And to beat ANY
    biometric crap, all you need is the following:
    Eyes : Spoons
    Hands : Saw, axe...
    Face shape: Axe and cutting block... (eww)

    Point is that biometric doesnt matter. A key would probably stop that unnessary

    ---All of the home's basic functionality is available in a pocket

    Yeah, and we can trust the wireless protocols? We cant even trust the 802.11
    encryption people, let alone MS for security. Who's to know that you could walk
    near and hijack a house computer system?

    ---It's like Web TV and a personal video recorder combined (add~~ read email

    Why would you want a tether like a PDA to haul around the house to control basic stuff? The last thing is to be harassed by email for this and that when my girlfriends over. Hell, I WANT CONTROL OVER EMAIL only when I'm sitting at my computer. I could give a shit less. And if it's really important, they'll call.

    And about that TV setup... Soo it's like MythTV?

    ---would monitor her activities to make sure everything's okay.

    And how would we prevent that those same sensors wouldnt be in a non-invalid
    house? Any audio/video sensor (read nearly everything) is that kind of sensor.
    If I'd have that kind of hardware, it'd be on a NON-INTERNET'ED network, with no physical connections to any network, with exception to the phone line. And that would be only for emergency phone calls (like fire sensors in roof have been set off...).

    Another thing is this auto-cooking shit. I wouldnt expect any computer can give
    reasonable instructions on how to cook. Cooking's an art, mastered by those with
    experience. How can some 2 bit computer deal with recipe substitutions cause you dont have that one good it demands? Or will it DEMAND KRAFT CHEESE when you
    bought that slab of american for 1.4$ per pound? Computers should follow MY
    rules, not the other way around.

    ---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.

    Uhhh, cant that already be done with X-Windows and cron jobs?

    And of course, you gotta have that SoHo stuff for those never-off-the-clock
    business users. That's a slashdot article in all its own. Still, all this GPS
    here, Voice analysis there and add yet more buzzwords.

    Point: There's tons of stuff in any house that you dont want ANYTHING taking
    control of, with the exception of the person there. I sure dont want some
    windows security system that goes in lock-down mode whenever the cat jumps
    around knocking some book down, or have it call the fire department on a bad
    computer cooking stint. And what about errors? There's tons of bugs in this
    kind, no, ANY kind of system on this magnitude. I wouldnt trust ANY OS, even
    Linux to take care and log every little transaction in and out of my house. And
    the last thing I want is a transaction log that some law enforcement agency can
    download if they have the certain e-signature allowing such search and seizure.
    The supreme court has shown that they dont care for our rights.

    Oh well, this has turned from a objection by point to a obnoxious rant. This is
    just stuff that I worry about when "shit from the future" happens to be
    partially true. It makes me think that there's actually a way to stop it.
  • by bfinuc ( 162950 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @05:22AM (#5221532) Homepage Journal
    In Japan all the new houses have toilet bowls operated by remote control. You can adjust the seat heating and fine tune the flush and there are nozzles that squirt your butt for fun and hygiene. They are about as standardized and easy to use as VCR remotes and the instructions are in Japanese, providing a powerful incentive to learn the language. Seems like the perfect niche for Windows WC or whatever.
  • Am I the only one? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Drakonite ( 523948 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @05:39AM (#5221586) Homepage
    So.. Am I the only one that realized if I had spare cash laying around I could already implement everything in that "house of tommorow"?
  • by Saint Fnordius ( 456567 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @05:48AM (#5221616) Homepage Journal
    The scary part isn't all of the technology- it's the fact that it's all supposed to be controlled by one system. One central co-ordinator. Your door telles the rest of the house that it's you, and your house could tell the rest of the world where you are. And it's all run by Microsoft, since no one else can interface with their wonky protocols.

    I'm more shocked by the whole "ivory tower"-ness of the house. The kitchen isn't designed to match real-life cooking habits. How much free counter surface do you have? The microwave actually encourages abusive use (why unpack the dinner or lift the lid when the microwave is supposedly so smart? I see a lot of aluminium foil-indused sparks by harried/inattentive owners). And the lighting during the storybook reading would be distracting, as any parent would tell you. And I don't even want to think about how much more electricity this house requires.

    Another thing that bothers me is that knowing Microsoft, this system would be accessible by the Internet. After all, reasons MS, you could then set your playlist for when you get home, or see who's at your front door, or check your refrigerator contents since the supermarket's along your route...

    ...and that scares me. Any system like this will be open to malicious code. Burglars could add their biometrics to your front door. Script kiddies could mangle your music collection (or the RIAA would snoop around to see how many bootlegs you have). A bug (or weak password) could leave your message box wide open. And whoever cracks one component of your house has access to the whole shebang.

    We should be concerned, because Microsoft is quite adept at convincing people that they have no other choice. Developers and customers didn't choose Microsoft because it was the better solution for their needs, but because they felt it was the only option.
  • no way... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by technomom ( 444378 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @09:20AM (#5222147)
    >>Back in the future, Heath is showing us around the teen bedroom of the future.... The teen, Heath says, will have the biggest and best computer monitor in the house.

    Well, not in MY house! Not unless "the teen" gets off his or her ass and gets a job to pay for it!
  • It's true (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thatguywhoiam ( 524290 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @11:09AM (#5222793)
    I have no idea to what extent they've adjusted the Speech Recognition in OS X. It may in fact be the same engine, simply running better on a multitasking system.

    More to the point of the topic... I remember reading an article by Andy Ihnatko [] a while back, wherein he described a home-automation project using X10, AppleScript, a Mac and a series of cheap microphones scattered throughout the house.

    See, the big problem with most speech recognition systems is the problem of speaking within earshot. A mic up close to you will do a pretty good job of pickup obviously, and make the computer's job much faster and more accurate. But if you're already sitting in front of the computer, the speech recognition isn't much good for things other than the supplemental ("Insert Time and Date"). You already have the keyboard and mouse in front of you, which are much faster than many speech commands.

    If you want to walk around your house and issue spoken commands, it's much more feasible to just buy a bunch of cheap PZM and omni microphones from Radio Scrap and put them everywhere. You don't even need that many; just think of the places you tend to 'park' (couch, standing by sink in kitchen, front hall, etc.) and aim appropriately. Doesn't take a lot of bleeding-edge stuff, but the design of how it works is much, much tricker, as one other poster pointed out.

  • Too Optimistic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @11:44AM (#5223000)

    Major innovations which will change the way we live... because people will be willing to pay for them incrementally:

    • Improved material science for hyperallergenic cleanliness, asthetics and fire prevention
    • Improved ventilation and environment control, no more dust bunnies crawling through central air units, ticking radiators, inefficient and inconvenient electric baseboard heaters... no more hotspots, coldspots and lower power bills.
    • Better, cheaper and faster food.
    • Smaller, quieter and more efficient appliances (combined washer/driers, conventional/convection and microwave ovens)
    • More material science and better medical science to develop better chairs, better beds (and better folding beds)
    • Better sound systems and personal entertainment systems.

    What the average schmoe will be absolutely unable to afford:

    • Real-estate within reach of urban employment

    The bigger better jobs will go to home offices, maybe... just maybe... as thoroughly extravegant and self-loving as the Microsoft vision.

    So where does that leave the average person?

    In a one-room apartment with artificial windows (not wonderful wrap-around ones, unless you splurge), a fold-out bed, a washer and drier quiet enough to sleep next to (because that's what you'll be doing), a minimal kitchen (because real-estate and time is more precious than the cost of the new and improved forms of fast food)

    All the while, you will dream of leaving the factory/fast food franchise/service industry to move towards some job you can perform from a home office outside the city.

    But that's just one vision.

  • Visitors to the house can leave a message via the touch-screen monitor built into the exterior wall or record a message if no one's home.

    No one comes to my door without calling my cell phone first to find out if I'm home. Any one who is coming to my door without calling is some sort of door-to-door marketer/religious person, and I don't want them to leave a message. This seems like an invitation for those cards you get on the windshield of your car when you park downtown, only on your front door.

    The important thing is that unlike a traditional key, a biometric system would identify each resident as they entered and prepare the house accordingly.
    For Heath, this means that as she enters the house, the shades go up, the lights go on and Elvis starts singing.

    I (shades down/lights at medium/soft jazz), my girlfriend (shades up/lights on/pop), my best friend (shades down/lights on full/metal), his girlfriend (shades up/lights on low/classical), and my parents (shades down/lights up full/NPR) all walk in at once... house explodes.

    More realistically, though - what music I want/how bright I want the lights/etc. depends on my mood, how I'm feeling, and how my day was. It's not always going to be the same, in fact it's rarely going to be the same from day to day. Therefore, I would need to specify every time I walked in - which is no different than I have now.

    And why check your e-mail in the front hall, when you can do it from the comfort of your living room on your TV? The television in this house is a whole lot smarter than the average boob tube. It's like Web TV and a personal video recorder combined.

    ... because I don't want my 8 year-old kid seeing "ENLARGE YOUR PENIS!" on my TV?

    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.

    Great... so, last night, I was watching pr0n - today I invite my girlfriend over to watch a movie and it pulls up... whoops.

    A text message comes up on screen from a friend - it's all part of the Disneyland-style demo designed to give a sense of how the house might work. She tells the friend she's busy right now, but quickly sends off directions to their next meeting together.

    A text messages comes up on screen from my mistress... while I'm watching TV with my wife. Whoops.
    Or, an obscene text message from my teenage daughter's boyfriend appears while I'm watching TV with her... causing me to ground her for a month. I can see obvious problems there.

    In essence, though computers are faster than I am, they really are not smarter than I am - they can't anticipate my moods/decisions nor can they cope with infinite possibilities and circumstances, including ones they have never encountered before. I want tools that do what I tell them to, not anticipate what they (or some anonymous programmer) thinks I might want.


  • by theManInTheYellowHat ( 451261 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @12:54PM (#5223639)
    I am turning my home into a low budget high tech house (sic) and I have thought about running wires and mounting a pc (or 2) in there. One would be for reading the news while on the throne. Which would allow for the removal of the magazine stack / rack.
    The other would be water proof and play music in the shower. I would use shorten instead of mp3, but that is me.
  • the good news is.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @12:55PM (#5223657) Homepage Journal
    ..Microsoft will sell these at a loss, and the Linux Community will snatch them up and get Linux running on them.

    I do't think most peopel want a house like this. We have the technology to do much of this now, hell we have had the technology for keyless entry for years, but we still use keys. How many people have to(or can) conduct business from home? 1% of the population? In this community it is probably higher, but overall its pretty damn low.

    SOme of the stuff is cool, but I would only consider it if I controlled how the computers work.

  • by pjp6259 ( 142654 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @03:23PM (#5225092) Homepage
    Dr. Mike Mozer is a professor of Computer Science (specializing in artificial Neural Networks (ANNs)). He has renovated an old school house near Boulder, Colorado and given it multiple sensors, and controls, and hooked all of this up to an adaptive learning system. For example his house has motion sensors and can control the lights, so when you walk into the bathroom the lights come on automatically.

    He never had to program this particular function, but because the house "saw" that everytime there was movement in the bathroom the lights were turned on, it learned to turn the lights on itself. Similarly, a microphone in the living room can determine that the TV has been turned on, and dim the lights to the correct level. I believe the house also predicts what fans and AC/heating to turn on based upon time of day, temperature outside, time of year, day of week, etc. And the best part is you don't have to figure out the optimal logic yourself, but the house learns it from watching your behaviour.

    You can find more information about this experiment here [] The best part is that much of the work was done by graduate students, and much of the funding came from grants.
  • i've been there (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cornjones ( 33009 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2003 @06:41PM (#5226902) Homepage
    I've been there and it _was_ pretty cool.

    Two things that I didn't see in the article.

    One of the ideas is that every product sold will have an RF tag. supposedly in a couple of years the tags are going to be down to a penny or two. The tags id whatever you bring into your house and add it too the "house inventory". one thing that scared me was when she mentioned that the house could check your insurance policy and if you weren't covered by you current policy they could contact you to upsell. uhhh, obviously designed w/ the business rather than the customer in mind.

    another thing about the door. the door is magnetically locked. you bio scan in and it lets you in. there was no keyhole that I saw. what happens when the power goes out? either you are locked in or the door is open. neither is acceptable.

    the house was pretty cool though. it had a great digital art sculpture. some random piece of artfully bent plastic. when you get close it illuminates from inside with pictures and videos from your media library. if you see a picture you like, say your trip to greece, you touch the picture and then all the pictures are from that trip or media group. Tres chic. a great way to display all that digital media we have been collecting.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.