Probably the first time we heard about smart-homes is when somebody visited Bill Gates’ house and then wrote an article about it. That was in the early 2000’s (as evidenced from this website), and at that time, Bill Gates’ electronically wired smart house was the stuff of sci-fi fantasy – or at least, it seemed that way to anyone who wasn’t a technological genius and billionaire.

Fast forward 15 years, it looks like smart-homes aren’t only meant for billionaire tech geeks anymore. A homeowner who has a “smart-home” system installed within their house can control the air-conditioning, switch lights on/off, open and close the garage door, monitor the children or housemaid, and even get the coffee maker to start brewing coffee when it senses them waking up in the morning, all thanks to a system that learns through algorithms and adapts to your daily lifestyle, or by remote control using a smartphone.

20._Station_der_Zukunftsenergientour-_Energieeffizienz-Projekte_SmartHome_in_Paderborn_(12100915513)That does sound pretty amazing, doesn’t it? Imagine not having to move around flipping switches when it gets dark, automatic shades that block out the worst of the midday sun, and being able to lock your front door via smartphone when having dinner outside instead of ruining a perfectly good meal by panicking and rushing home. A Samsung smart home advertisement points out that installing their smart home appliances, such as electronic door access and security system, can allow homeowners to record entries, detect intrusion, and send out notifications and alarms. Gas stoves and lights can also be remotely switched off from a linked mobile device while residents are away from home, while cameras installed inside the house can help users to monitor activity.

Conveniences aside, just how “smart” is a smart-home?

Smart-homes are programmed to follow a pattern, or learn and adapt to the preferences and routine of the residents in a house. However, not all smart-homes are created equal; some are so “high tech” that simple tasks like turning on a light become unnecessarily complex, while “learning algorithms” can get preferences wrong, and electronic systems malfunction for no apparent reason, which then cost a bomb to fix. As one mechanical engineering professor says, “It isn’t worth the fiddle factor.” Of course, more paranoid individuals will worry about hackers getting into their system and robbing them blind, which is a very real, but unlikely, possibility.

One of the most important things when it comes to smart-home systems is undoubtedly the support. A smart-home system company that is able to provide prompt and efficient customer support is vital, so consumers have to shop smart when choosing one to install in their home. Unlike a broken desk lamp or stuck doorknob, electronic and electrical systems cannot be easily fixed by reading the instruction manual, as it involves a fair bit of technical knowledge. More often than not, a simple glitch can cause hours of worry and frustration, which is why people are being selective about the technological amenities they’re installing.

Pros and cons of smart-homes aside, being able to change the artwork on your walls with a single touch (like in Bill Gates’ house) does sound pretty awesome. And who wouldn’t want music that follows you from room to room? That’s like having your very own real life personal background music! Therefore, even if smart-homes aren’t really all that smart (yet), it’s undeniable that they sure make things easier, and a lot cooler.

When a Smart Home Is Too Smart for its Own Good” (2015), Nancy Keates (The Wall Street Journal)
19 Crazy Facts About Bill Gates’ $123 million Washington Mansion” (2014), Madeline Stone (Business Insider Malaysia)