As part of our Future of Home Living Series, PSFK Labs reached out to experts to get their take on the changes we’ve identified that are driving the evolution of the home. We recently caught up with Steve Clayton, Digital Anthropologist and Editor of microsoft.com/next. Read our chat with Steve below to hear more about how our entertainment is evolving within the home.
What are the big technology shifts that will change the way entertainment and information will be shared throughout the home? How far away are we from cutting the cord?
It’s hard to say. Technologically it’s not very far. From a licensing content and rights point of view, probably a little bit further. Then when you expand that beyond the US into international rights the rights management side of it becomes where some of the challenges and opportunities are.
Yeah. As a consumer, from my personal point of view and not speaking for Microsoft here. That’s where I think it’s going, where I can have any content, any time, on any device. I want to be able to have content that I want to watch from the UK back on BBC, be able to easily get that on any device here and not have to worry about rights management. At the moment, the way that rights are distributed and sold and resold. That’s probably the limiting factor, not the technology. That’s why I prefer it.
When technology becomes more anticipatory and responsive, how does that change our relationship to our homes? What is the balance between human input and HAL from 2001?
Again, we’re already on that journey. Things like Nest are a really interesting step on that journey because it starts to bring more intelligence into the home. As we move to this world where objects in our lives and in our houses are connected with sensors and have awareness of the environment they’re in, whether that’s heat, lights, temperature, movement, and then each of those devices then start to become connected, either to a central system or to each other.
We do start to get to a point where my home does start to become almost like a living computer. It becomes more of this organic thing. We’ve gotten to that point where we already have the apocryphal refrigerator that will send a note when I’ve run out of milk. Things will become more subtle than that.
Nest is a great example where we start to have technology that learns about the environment, learns about our behavior, learns about our patterns and then starts to do things on our behalf. That’s where it’s beginning to get interesting about technology, if we have a house who does things on our behalf. It knows my commute patterns so it can turn on the fireplace. Or it knows my patterns so that when I get up in the morning it knows the first thing I’m going to do is read email.
When I’m eating my breakfast, maybe I don’t want to read that on my phone or my tablet. I want to read it on a kitchen service that actually is my kitchen table or the wall in my living room. It knows my patterns. It knows my family’s pattern so that when I walk into the living room, and again we sort of have this a little bit with Kinect for Xbox 360. When I switch on Xbox I can do it with my voice. We’ll see more opportunity for voice control. I’ll be able to walk into my living room and say, “Xbox on” and it will recognize me. It will present the content that’s appropriate for me. Whereas if it were my four year old daughter, it would present the content that’s appropriate for her.
That’s the direction we’re headed. It’s where technology becomes out there, where technology becomes more intelligent. It becomes more anticipatory and starts to work more on our behalf. The important thing is that it does that with our permission. There’s lots of contextual information in my life. My phone knows more about my life in the last two years than anybody else in my life. It knows where I’ve been. It knows what I like. It knows what I search for. It knows what I eat. It knows when I’ve checked in, all of the pieces of digital footsteps. Foursquare or Twitter, or website searches, all of the phone calls I make.
My phone has all of this information that it can start to form a much more intelligent picture of me. The reason I say “with our permission” is obviously not everybody wants to give up that information to some electronic system to allow it to do work on our behalf. I’m more inclined that I would do that. I would be prepared to share that information for the benefit of having systems that are working on my behalf.
What do you see as the next big trend(s) urban living and why is this important?
Bit of stuff, a combination of the examples I just gave, if I think about it from a technology point of view. More objects and devices in our living environment, whether that would be the lighting system in my house or the refrigeration system, all of that kind of stuff. We’ll be more connected and our ability to remotely control stuff and intelligently control stuff.
There will be more ways to consume content. At the moment our content is still primarily driven, in most households, through the TV set. We will start to, certainly the work we’re doing, is how do we turn any surface into a digital interactive surface whether that’s my kitchen table or the wall or a multitude of different devices. We’ll have the ability to access and be entertained across multiple devices and not primarily through one device.
We’ll definitely see growth. Most people now, if we think about the TV, most people sit and watch something on TV these days. Certainly our generation sits there and watches it with another device in their hand, whether that’s an iPad or a phone or a tablet of some type. From a content producer point of view, we’ll see more and more content designed from the outset to work across multiple screens. We’re starting to see a little bit of that on Xbox, the work that we’re doing with Smart Glass around providing this second screen experience.
I’ll be watching a movie. I can get additional information, contextual information, about the movie on that second screen, and I can actually drive the movie. In time we’ll get to the point where people have talked about transmedia for a while. We’ll start it and, to some extent, control the content we experience through that second screen on different paths, predetermined or paths that have been predetermined.
We have a facility in Microsoft that used to be called “The Home of the Future.” Now it’s part of a facility we call the “Envisioning Center.” One of the areas in there that we’ve focused on a lot is around the kitchen and technology in the kitchen. Some of the things we have in there are starting to happen, so the ability to have a lot more voice controlled technology, the ability to be…
I’ll talk you through one of the scenarios in the kitchen that is quite cool where you basically, and this is really odd for me because I’m not a good cook anyway…
One of the scenarios we have in the kitchen is that you pick up a piece of food or an ingredient, in this case imagine I picked up a red pepper, and I hold it front of the screen. The screen has a connect sensor built in and it says, “Oh, that’s a red pepper. Let me show you the things you can cook with that.” It brings up a variety of different dishes on the screen. It’s all driven by voice. “OK, I’m going to cook prepping with red peppers in it.” Then the kitchen, the combination of motion sensor, light connect, and projection systems in the kitchen then basically guide you through the whole process of cooking that thing, so projecting out onto the kitchen worktop.
You should get a wok out. You should get these ingredients. Here’s how you measure the ingredients. There’s a chef on the screen who is guiding me through the process. I’m not sure that’s an idea that will suit everybody, but those types of scenarios where we end up having more subtle technology woven through our households will start to get interesting.
What are three things you’d put in your perfect home or apartment?
Three things I would have? We have this technology that would be developed for four or five years. We call it the Magic Window. I’m sitting in my apartment now. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not from Miami. I’m from the UK, which might come across. All of my family are back in the UK. At the moment my experience, I’ve got two little kids. My parents like to see the kids. We have this routine of every Saturday we’ll wake up and I switch on my PC. I send them a text message to make sure that theirs is on, and we fire up Skype.
We have this pretty decent conversation through Skype, but what I really want to get to is we’ve got this technology that we’ve shown a few times in our labs called the “Magic Window. Imagine that you’ve got an entire wall in your house, and at the click of your fingers or the flick of a switch that wall turns into what looks like a piece of glass. That piece of glass is a window into somewhere else in the world. One of the things I want is that Magic Window, because what it allows us to do is basically snap my fingers. Wall turns into a piece of glass, and I’m looking into my parents living room back in the UK and looking into it with 3D perspective.
That very popular right now. Then you’ve got to make this video of what the Magic Window is, and it would make more sense. It’s basically a window into somewhere else in the world that makes it feel like you’re in that other place. That’s one thing that I would love to have in my house. What else would I love to have in my house? I would like to be able to just have voice data access to all of the media in my life. I have this dream of being able to sit in front of my television and say, “Show me all of the photographs from five years ago, when we went to watch Le Mans 24 hours.”
My computer knows all of that information now, so it knows what five years ago means. It knows what Le Mans means. It’s got the intelligence to do that, but we all know that at the moment we can’t really do that. We’re not very far away from this, but it’s not quite there. The combination of being able to understand and index all of my media. Then being able to present that back to me through natural conversational voice requests like, “Show me all my photos.”
PSFK has announced the latest in a series of trend reports. Following studies into retail, social media, gaming, work and mobile, the PSFK Labs consulting team have generated the Future of Home Living report. That report manifests as a free summary presentation, an in-depth downloadable PDF and an exhibition in New York City that runs to August 16.
RSVP below to take a tour of the exhibition at 101W15th.