A Spectre is Haunting My House

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On October 4th 2011, Apple introduced “Siri”, a verbally responsive computer program that works as an intelligent personal assistant for iPhones. After a short time, Microsoft and Amazon introduced their own intelligent assistants by the names Cortana and Alexa respectively and this recently emerged phenomenon opened new opportunities for the smart-house market. In 2017, we witness beginning of the rise of smart-houses integrated with these intelligent assistants. In these houses, one can make it do anything electronic by just saying it. However, this is not the only feature it offers. It can also communicate with you through simple imitation of human sentimentality. It seems that these new intelligent houses have the capacity to change the fundamentals of our domestic lives.

In these type of houses, we let the AI control our domestic environment. We allow it to raise the temperature of the air-conditioner; turn on the lights, televisions, coffee makers; close the curtains; lock the doors and many other things that humans have been doing personally. In this context, we attribute a small portion of human agency to the house by making it undertake many simple physical actions that we are all capable of doing. Through making the AI an intermediator between us and our house, we give a partial autonomy to it by letting it do some changes in the physical world without any visible supervision. The boundaries between the AI and the house are blurred in this formation. Thrift (2003) claims that “For a long time, it has been a dream of the information technology industry to produce new kinds of heavily mechanized and highly performative space, ‘intelligent environments’ in which the boundaries of human and inhuman could be redescribed…” (p.390). Maybe they finally made it.

Reciprocal communication, however, adds another layer to this issue. As social beings, we feel the need to communicate with other people and the actions we take to get that satisfaction shapes our daily routines. Since our intelligent houses can respond to questions with sentimental mimicry, “Will these interfaces ever be to fill the emotional void that results from the lack of socialization in the future?” arises as an important and puzzling question. However, the answer leads up to a much more important question: “To what extent this artificial compensation will change our daily routines?” It is too early to provide a good answer to this question yet it is a vital one to keep in mind.

As a result of these features, we can say that merging houses with AI’s personifies them and creates a phantom person lurking in the house who is invisible but ever-present. As Küchler (2008) states “The goal is … animate the inanimate world by endowing it with more and more of the attributes of living things.” (p101). Living things being humans, this statement correctly reflects our issue. She argues that (2008), smart fabrics changes the perception of clothing; in our context, we can say intelligent houses have the capacity to change the perception of home and domestic life.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/shortcuts/2017/jan/09/alexa-amazon-echo-goes-rogue-accidental-shopping-dolls-house

http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/159831/technology/smart_home_features.html

Kuechler, S (2008) Technological Materiality: Beyond the Dualist Paradigm Theory, Culture and Society 25(1):101:120

Thrift, N (2005) Closer to the Machine: Intelligent Environments, New forms of Possession and the Rise of the Supertoy. In Knowing Capitalism pp182-196

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