How cinema inspired home automation

20 October 2022

There was a time that talking devices and automated lawn mowers were only possible in cinema. Films visualized our dreams and questions about advanced technology soon before home automation was even a thing. Were those thoughts realistic or pure fiction - or something in between?

By thinking of the future, we sometimes have to look back at the past. Home automation has after all only been around for the last 10 years. What were our thoughts on living standards and housing before then? Turns out, as with every new invention or trend, there were big dreamers and sceptics. Think of ultra-supersonic gadgets is spy movies or the robot that turns evil.

We took a look at 3 films that incorporated home automation and smart devices in their storyline and ask ourselves the question: "Is it possible?"

  Her (imdb)

A love story between human and smart speaker

'Her' tells the story of a recently divorced man, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who lives in a world similar to ours. He is a sociable guy until he buys the OS1, an AI system that is advertised as a 'consciousness', given form by a voice assistant named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Soon, 'she' becomes his closest friend, slowly isolating him from his social life.

Eventually, they fall in love, 'cause what's not to love? By proactively scanning through his emails, messages and photos, she understands him like no one else. Overall, it ends in a tragic love story as the protagonist tries to figure out the dilemma of following his heart or his rational thinking.

Is it possible?

Today, our relationship with smart speakers remains very one-sided and hierarchic: devices solely activate when they are called upon, only search the information they are explicitly commanded to search and don't engage in any further conversations once their task is completed. Simply said, it seems that there isn't much to fall in love with at the moment.

It sounds a bit creepy, a device voluntarily looking through your personal mails or photos. Privacy please! On the other hand, how convenient would it be if your smart systems proactively would do your chores, like clearing your inbox? It is very unlikely though as we still first have to manually install our home automations to our expectations and routines.

  Blade runner 2049 (imdb)

Holographic friends in Blade Runner 2049

So far, Artificial Intelligence remains something obscure to us as our interactions run rather stifly. We still feel as though we're 'commanding' a system rather than making conversation. Our Siris and Alexas often misinterpret what we say, or we are simply not aware that we're interacting with AI. What if that changed? Talking to a physically present entity like you would to another person. In the reboot of the iconic Blade Runner, we see Officer K talking with Joi, an AI system that's been given form by high-resolution projectors. At first it seems as though 'she' only serves as a conversational partner, soon it turns out that she can also touch and pick up things when she lights a sigaret.

Is it possible?

AI is already everywhere around us: voice assistants, facial recognition on your smartphone or in street cameras, self-driving cars... However, these technologies are still nowhere near becoming a life size holographic entity that's able to move through a room. The closest technology at this time is augmented reality. In a virtual world, we're able to interact with and see pre-programmed characters.

A strangely accurate smart home in the 80's

A fingerprint lock to open the front door, a system voice that greets you when you enter or defrosting a pizza with voice commands. It could very well be happening in your own home, but these scenes are part of the sequel to the 80's classic 'Back to the future'. We see how Marty and Jennifer McFly move through their smart home avant la lettre. All their devices are connected to one overarching system without any need for an app or control pannel. From a critical perspective, it is very hard to imagine how that would practically work. Admittedly, in 2015 - the year where Marty returns to - our smart home technology wasn't flawless either. It still isn't.

Is it possible?

Marty and Jennifer McFly's home isn't only possible, it is reality. Giving voice commands every now and then, locking your home without a key... The people who own a smartphone, smart speaker or automated security system seem to have a very similar lifestyle to this fictional couple. It is impressive how some of the scenes have become so prophetic over time. The big difference? In the film, home automation is the living standard. A majority of the people today owns at least one smart device (be it a smartphone) or system, but a fully connected home is rather rare.

Overall, we have to admit it's fun to fantasize about the future of connected homes, so we fully understand the big dreamers and sceptics behind these films. It's also clear that staying realistic in film can be hard for entertainment purposes.

Further reading