We are surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Soon we'll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, and even save our lives.
On a 5-acre plot in Great Falls, Virginia, less than a mile’s stroll through exurban scrub from the wide Potomac River, Alex Hawkinson has breathed life into a lifeless object. He has given his house, a sprawling six-bedroom Tudor, what you might describe as a nervous system: a network linking together the home’s very sinews, its walls and ceilings and windows and doors. He has made these parts move, let them coalesce as a bodily whole, by giving them a way to talk among themselves. Open a telnet session in the house’s digital hub and you can actually spy on his chattering stuff, hear what it says when no one’s listening:
LIBRARY MOTION SENSOR: DEVICE 0X9E07 ZONE STATUS 0×0031
CAR DOOR: TEMPERATURE: +13.0C; BATTERY: 2.4V
CAR GLOVE COMPARTMENT: [87AC] CHECKIN
FAMILY ROOM LIGHT: 2001-
KITCHEN COUNTER LIGHT: 2001-
FOYER LIGHT: 2001-
LIVING ROOM MOTION SENSOR: DEVICE 0XB247 ZONE STATUS 0×0031
This is the language of the future: tiny, intelligent things all around us, coordinating their activities. Coffeepots that talk to alarm clocks. Thermostats that talk to motion sensors. Factory machines that talk to the power grid and to boxes of raw material. A decade after Wi-Fi put all our computers on a wireless network—and half a decade after the smartphone revolution put a series of pocket-size devices on that network—we are seeing the dawn of an era when the most mundane items in our lives can talk wirelessly among themselves, performing tasks on command, giving us data we’ve never had before.