Smart Homes and AI Enabled House Appliances

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Have you ever wondered what an AI-powered house would be like? What about an intelligent home replete with smart appliances like a smart fridge that can place a grocery order on its own or a brilliant stove that shuts off if it detects no human present? We discuss smart homes and what implications they might have.

Mary Daphne: Hello, Advanced English learners. Welcome back to another conversation between the one and only Greg and myself. Hello and welcome. We're so excited to be doing these lessons with you. It seems like you're really enjoying them, and I'm happy to hear that you've also been enjoying the listening comprehension worksheets that go along with these conversations which as a reminder, you can get if you are subscribed to our free newsletter, which comes out twice a week, so definitely check that out. Just go to the website and you'll see an opportunity to join the mailing list, which is free. That way you can benefit even more from these conversations. All right, so without further ado, let's get into today's topic. How about that, Greg? 

Greg: Sounds great. 

Mary Daphne: So today we're going to be discussing smart homes. 

Greg: Ooh, I love smart homes. 

Mary Daphne: Let's get into it.

All right, so why don't we first start by defining smart home? 

Greg: Yeah, smart home has definitely become this marketing term that can encompass a wide range of smart features in a home. When you say smart these days I think we think of AI and artificial intelligence and so forth, but this kind of smart, when they say we talk about smart homes, isn't quite that intelligent.

Not yet. It probably will get there, but really all it's referring to is the ability to automate or control digitally some of the aspects of your home. 

Mary Daphne: One of the ones that I really like is of course the safety features. So the smart doorbells, the smart cameras that you have around your apartment complex or your housing complex or your property.

And then I also love the idea of the fridge that tells you what you need to order, what you're out of stock of. 

Greg: Yeah, the fridge one is a funny one. They've. Marketing that for years, right? Yeah, because they know that if they add just a few pieces of software, they can charge, a thousand dollars more for a fridge.

The funny thing is and this frankly applies to a lot of the smart home features. The fancier you get the more difficult it becomes to maintain these devices. So for a fridge, you get a lot of, particularly like our parents generation, they miss the days of their simple old fridges that really did one thing, which was keep things cold.

Because there was nothing to break, right? Those things would last for 20, 30 years. Nowadays we have fridges with these electronic, modifications and automations and gadgets, and those things break. And when they break, you have to get a repair man in, and they might only last for three or four years.

Then you get a new fridge. It's a real pain. So the actual functionality has maybe increased but the the the longevity of some of these devices because they've become so smart in quotes the longevity has actually decreased. So you have to decide do you want more features or do you want more longevity?

If you want both, you may not have a choice or you have to pay really big bucks. So anyways, that's not to say though that these smart features aren't really cool or really useful because in a lot of cases they are. And I liked your example of the smart security features, right? I think that's probably one of the strongest arguments for getting a smart home.

Mary Daphne: Yeah. It's funny that you said just circling back to something you just said about the longevity. So the lifespan of these appliances is going to decrease based on how smart it is, quote unquote smart. But it reminds me of one of our lovely neighbors in one of the places we used to live, and I remember she invited me over for coffee and I was marveling at this cool, built in coffee maker system.

And I said, wow, that's so cool that you have this. It's it looks super slick and it looks like it makes really good coffee. And she's like, yeah, we got that. And then shortly thereafter it stopped working and it's this thing that's built. Essentially next to their refrigerator. And she said they spent so much more time having it broken than having it be functioning, and it turned out that it was right around the pandemic, so they couldn't get a repair person to come and fix it.

Yeah, it just made what you just said made me think about that. 

Greg: That's such a good example, right? A lot of these built in features of homes. I think built in speakers, right? Surround sound speakers around the house or, nest thermostat integrations a lot of these things are super convenient and really useful when they work.

But when they break, you might need someone specialized to come and fix them. And sometimes they're so integrated that it's hard to get to. And if you want to do any DIY, do it yourself work on these things, you might not be able to, unless you're really skilled at being a handyman because they're complex just to get into. My mom always has a a home theater system that she likes to have a professional set up for her, and I always tell her, just let me set that up for you because if when I set it up, I know I can fix it for you. But instead she gets a professional to set it up for her. And so then when something inevitably goes wrong with it she's like, can you fix this?

And I say I would love to, but everything's hidden and concealed, and it looks beautiful, but it's impossible for me to get behind. You need tools and expertise to get there. So guess what? You made your thing too nice, and now I can't help you fix it. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah, so it's a trade off, I think, right?

There's a point where you might say I don't mind. I just want it to look good, and who cares about the functionality or the fact that I'm going to have to call someone to fix it. If that's you, then okay, kudos to you. But if that's not you, that's not me. I think I'd prefer the function over the.

Really sleek design. I love design. I aesthetically, really appreciate that. But when push comes to shove, it's like, do you want your coffee maker working or ? Do you want it just to look beautiful? 

Greg: Totally. A hundred percent. And that's, there's always tension. There's actually another bit of tension, which is the do it yourself kits, there are smart home do it yourself kits, for example, there are some thermostats, smart thermostats. A thermostat is what controls the temperature in your house, right? So you can turn up the temperature, turn it down, you can schedule it. Even the ones from the eighties and nineties had some basic features like that, but it was analog.

There were like switches that you dialed and moved. There was no digital display. Now we have thermostats that can hook up to your smartphone. 

Mary Daphne: Okay. 

Greg: Here we call it smartphone. It's just a phone nowadays, but it hooks up to your phone and you can control it from wifi. Let's say you're traveling on vacation you're like, oh shoot, I left the heat on.

You can turn off the heat while you're on vacation just using your smart app. So that's cool. And you can do this with the DIY kit, right, , meaning you can set it up yourself. And so the tension becomes, to what extent do you want these DIY kits that sort of piecemeal fit together and they're not necessarily very compatible versus a very professionally installed, really well integrated kit.

The downside there is if something goes wrong, you need a professional to fix it. So there's this tension with smart homes around also, like how much of it do you want to do yourself and potentially have a lot of sort of compatibility issues and stability issues versus relying on a professional where you have fewer issues.

But when you do have issues, you have to pay to get them fixed. 

Mary Daphne: And at a premium a lot of times, meaning they're at a cost that's above market rate. So market rate for getting your fridge fixed might be X amount, but then getting your smart fridge fixed might be X, Y, Z and then A, B, C, D, E, F, . I don't know if that's an exaggeration to be honest.

Greg: No it's not. That's a hidden cost in a lot of these fancier items, right? It's not just the sticker price. It's not just the price you pay when you buy it, it's how much it's going to cost to maintain it, right? Cars are a classic example of this. , Everyone wants their Ferrari or their Lamborghini or their Porches.

And then you get one of those and you're like, yes, I finally saved up enough and I bought this thing. And now all is good until you take it in for maintenance. Ah, and then you realize your maintenance bill costs three times as much for that. And any upgrade you make to the car, any fix you make to the car, Is going to cost three times what you're used to.

So the, it's the additional bundled costs of that item, which the businesses actually typically build into the price of the item. So oftentimes they'll sell these big ticket products for below the cost of making it. Because they know they're going to make more money from the maintenance of it. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. So that's a sneaky extra tax in a way. So I want to circle back to the smart home concept. So we touched upon briefly the idea of the security enabled features, which I think is a huge reason why I would be a proponent of a smart home. And then secondly, another type of safety feature would be something like a stove.

If you have a stove top that's not electric, or even if it was electric, meaning without the flame so without the gas, so to speak, if someone were to, get a phone call or the doorbell rings and then they completely get sidetracked and forget that the stove is on, that would be a great feature for the stove to turn itself off essentially.

Greg: Yeah. So that's another aspect of smart home that I think is equally important, if not more. I. That gets into what we started out this conversation by discussing, which is AI enabled smart homes, right? So previously smart homes have mostly referred to the ability to control your home from your phone, right?

So you can do things, it's manual, but it's at least digital, and you can do it from a distance, right? And you can set things on a schedule and automate them, but what you're describing is even more powerful. And this is where it's going. And this is, I actually believe it or not, as much as I love technology, I've stayed away from most smart home things because of what I just described.

It's been very manual. What we're moving to and when I will start to invest in a smart home is these AI automated aspects of your smart home. So what you just described as a great one, the stove detects that there's no one in that room maybe because of a motion sensor or something. And it says that's a danger.

So I'm going to switch myself off or detects that there's nothing on the stove. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: It feels like there's no weight, there's no pressure on the stove grates. It's going to turn itself off. Or let's say you left the house, but you left a bunch of lights on the house knows that you left, and so it turns off its lights.

Mary Daphne: Or I'm just going to interject there.

Greg: Yeah. 

Mary Daphne: Or you're on vacation andyou want people to think that you're home. So maybe like robbers or something would be deterred from coming in burglars. Then you can have a fixture where you know, the lights come on and you're not home, but they'll come on and then come off at just like random times to make it look like someone's there.

Greg: That's a cool feature, but that's actually one that already exists, right? That's one that you can set yourself. Yeah. What I'm more so referring to are featuresthat go on without you setting them. 

Mary Daphne: Okay. That's a good distinction.

Greg: A trigger because it's assuming you forgot to do something. Yeah. And it's basically giving you help.

It's reminding you by doing it, it's even better than reminding you. It's just taking it, it's action. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. I love that. That's so great because it takes the the brain work out of it, and then you can use your brain power for something more important. . Yeah. in a lot of ways. 

Greg: Exactly. People love Teslas.

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: Because they have some of these features built in. For example, when you get out of a Tesla and you walk away from it, it automatically locks and it automatically rolls up its windows for you. So you, maybe you forgot to, you left your window open. Yeah, it'll roll it up and close because it knows most people when they leave their car A, they want to lock it and B, they want their windows rolled up.

So it's basically these features that are integrated and they trigger when things probably should be a certain way and were not configured to be a certain way. The AI takes over and says, "let me fix that for you". 

Mary Daphne: So when do you think this kind of AI enabled smart home will be on the market? 

Greg: So they're on the market.

Like they're definitely aspects of this. The challenge, of course is what I was referring to before this DIY versus a single, integrated system, right? . And so there are a lot of different smart home gadgets and a lot of them are starting to organize or be integrated into single smart home hubs. 

Mary Daphne: Like a Google. 

Greg: Like a Google or like a Alexa. Yeah. Like a Siri. These smart home hubs are basically a centralized server that provides a integration point for all these different, devices. For example, you could hook in your lights to this. You can hook in your thermostat, you can hook in your locks and your webcams and your security cameras.

They all hook into this, and you can control it by using your, digital assistant, right? You say, Hey, whatever depending on your service, can you turn on the lights or turn off the lights? So those integrations start to provide this coherent network of devices, but we're still not there yet.

 It's just really complicated to try and integrate so many different aspects of a home in a way that isn't exorbitantly expensive. 

Mary Daphne: And I'm wondering, can you just add these features when they're really available instead of piecemeal doing like a stove and then a lock, and then a camera, and then this, and then that.

So piecemeal separately. If you can do something all together, does it have to be necessarily for a new home or apartment, or can it be for an older home or apartment that you just add this to? 

Greg: My guess is you can integrate it into any home at this point, provided that you have sufficiently fast internet.

Yeah. A lot of this relies on the quality of your internet and the ethernet cables around your house so that everything can network properly. You need to make sure they all need to connect to wifi, so you need to make sure you have complete coverage wifi coverage in your house.

Mary Daphne: So if you're in a remote location, it probably might not make that much sense to have.

Greg: Yeah, it might be tougher. But these days with something like Elon Musk's Starlink you can get connectivity anywhere really. 

Mary Daphne: So let's just say what Starlink is, and this is not an ad. 

Greg: Starlink is one of the coolest things coming online, no pun intended. Which is satellite internet.

And now we've had satellite internet for decades, but it's been super slow. Like you could send maybe a text message. With Elon Musk's Starlink, where he's sending thousands of satellites up in to space and you basically blanket the earth in these little satellites and they're all beaming internet to every square foot of the planet.

You can get much faster, a hundred megabit, 300 megabit connections. From basically anywhere. Yeah. As long as you have a receiver. And so that's going to completely change the way that we access and have connectivity from anywhere in the world. 

Mary Daphne: Speaking of the internet, my understanding is if the internet were to somehow you'd lose connection to the internet, say a storm or a power outage something or other that leads to the internet being shut off for however long. What are the implications then for your smart home? 

Greg: That's a really good point. And that's, question with automated cars too, and anything that, that relies on connectivity to function, once you lose that connectivity, what happens?

So you need some kind of fallback, right? So even if you have a really smart home. There needs to be a way to take over manually, whether that's because of software glitches or because of connectivity issues. Yeah. You need there to be manual intervention where you can make adjustments based on your needs.

In, in the event that the, AI system behind it is an operating right. And the same goes for airplanes even, right? Like airplanes these days rely heavily on automation and a. But occasionally those things go wrong and the pilot needs to be able to take over and land the plane.

Mary Daphne: This is why pilots go through, grueling flight training and they have to log in thousands. Thousands of hours. 

Greg: Oh yeah.

Mary Daphne: This is why 

Greg: Yeah. Even now, even with all the automations, they still need to know how to manually fly a plane. Just like we should still know how to manually drive and how we should, be able to do things around our house.

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: Even as they become increasingly automated. 

Mary Daphne: So this is an interesting concept. There's so much more to talk about, which we can get into in another conversation, but I think for now we broached the topic. Let's let that percolate. Let us know what you think. Should we continue this conversation?

And of course we can always continue this conversation in the comments and in the q and a. So we always love hearing from you there.

Greg: And what are your favorite smart home features? What what aspects of a smart home would you like automated? 

Mary Daphne: I personally would love a team maker, like more than just pressing the kettle, or, yeah, I, that's just my two cents.

Greg: I think for me it's energy integration. So I want to be completely off the grid, right? Yeah. So solar panels and a battery, which Tesla offers. But that hooked into the home. So you can optimize power usage throughout the house with all the different devices to make it as efficient as possible.

Mary Daphne: That's a good one. I like that one too. Okay, excellent. So we're going to see you in the next lesson in conversation very soon. Bye for now and happy Advanced English Learning, everyone.