2. Your House Will Talk to You
Thermostats like Alphabet’s Nest can already adjust the temperature based on outdoor weather conditions and whether or not anyone’s home. In the future, more appliances will anticipate your needs: A coffeemaker that can sense your movements might automatically start brewing as soon as you get out of bed. Lights and ceiling fans will turn on and off as you enter and leave rooms. The fridge and pantry might even compare notes and suggest recipes based on the food you have on hand.
Though many of your appliances will be rigged up to WiFi and voice control, you won’t necessarily be subjected to a cacophony of devices vying for your attention. Instead, your home might have a single cognitive assistant—a disembodied, omnipresent voice always waiting in the wings—that could control all your appliances, and even help you manage your life.
Today’s Amazon Echo and the forthcoming Google Home respond to voice commands and can do things like play music and remind you of an upcoming dentist appointment. In a decade or two, machine assistants will be able to do much more, says James Kozloski, an inventor at IBM. Along with his colleagues, he patented a system that uses sensors and machine learning to predict a person’s needs. Such a system could remind you, just as you’re sitting down to FaceTime with an old friend, that her birthday is coming up. It might even change the social dynamics of your household. Instead of one person constantly nagging another to unload the dishwasher or take out the trash, the cognitive assistant could predict the optimal time for completing chores and offer a nudge. Or, better yet, it could wordlessly instruct a machine to do the work for you.
3. You’ll Never Be Truly Alone
In the decades to come, an influx of home robots could make today’s appliances seem positively quaint. The market for consumer and office robots is expected to surge in the next three years, according to a 2015 report by Business Insider Intelligence, a technology-research firm, exceeding $1.5 billion and far outpacing the growth of robots in manufacturing.
We already have robots that vacuum, like the Roomba, but in the future we’ll also have inflatable robot arms that can scrub surfaces and bathe people, says Christopher Atkeson, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon, whose lab has produced prototypes of such machines. Eventually, robots will fold laundry, cook meals, and pick up clutter. And if they work well, you won’t even notice them. The key to effective robots is “being able to anticipate or predict what people will do,” says Julie Shah, the head of the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT. “The idea is to either support [people] or stay out of their way.”
That said, some people may want a robot that hangs around. In Japan, a friendly humanoid robot called Pepper that can perceive and respond to human emotion has proved enormously popular since it went on sale two years ago. Pepper might turn out to be the perfect roommate—helpful, kind, and always up for hanging out, but never in the way.