Turning Gadget Lust Into Energy Efficiency

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Nest is an awesome gadget that will over time pay for itself.

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal in conversation with industry entrepreneurs shaping our future. See full coverage

It would be hard to come up with any single area of energy that is less sexy than efficiency. Efficiency is the realm of window panes and insulation. The most widely adopted thing to come along for consumers who want to buy efficient stuff has been a special kind of light bulb  Think about that.

Meanwhile, our gadgets are just about the coolest things in the consumer world. They are what people buy each other for the holidays and they are what teenagers want to own. There is a reason that Apple is worth more than a hundred billion dollars more than Exxon these days. People really, really like buying gadgets.

Nest is the love child of efficiency and gadgets. Co-founded by Tony Fadell and other Apple veterans, the company has somehow created a craveable thermostat, something you want to own because it's cool. "It's a thermostat!" I yelled at myself when I purchased one of the $250 gadgets. But then some other part of my brain responded, "No, it's an awesome gadget that will eventually pay for itself." And that's a pretty compelling proposition.

In a series of videos this week, the company's VP of Technology, Yoky Matsuoka, will explain how the Nest learns to save you money. And why someone like her, a specialist in artificial intelligence who ran a robotics laboratory at the University of Washington, ended up working for a thermostat company. The one at the top of this post kicks off the series.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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