Smart homes: Brave new world

Christopher Chitty21 Aug 2017

Smart home living

Smart homes are a ubiquitous trend. From condominiums to executive condominiums, the extent at how smart a home is made may vary but all proselytise the coming of the new tech as an evolution of our humble dwellings.

A brave new world

What makes a home smart?

At the moment, it’s things like digital locks with video and voice functionalities. It’s air-conditioning systems that switch on when someone’s in the room and switch off when that person has left. It’s lights and home appliances that can be controlled remotely, through your phone. It’s a phone alert that notifies you when a window is ajar or opened from the outside.

A smart home is a combination of things that contribute towards convenience and is the sum of its parts rather than one item on its own. It is a system that needs a singular point – such as the phone or tablet – whereby all the disparate parts are managed and made to work together through Wi-Fi or as it is more commonly known in the industry; the Internet of Things.

Internet of Things

Internet of Things is everywhere nowadays

As part of the government’s mandate to turn Singapore in a smart nation, the issue of the Internet of Things (IoT) into the fabric of modern homes serve as a bedrock for a larger implementation of the system. The IoT is the interconnection of computing devices via the internet embedded into everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. An easy way to wrap one’s head over this is the EZ-Link card and how trips are paid and monitored when each card is tapped onto the reader.

In homes like The Visionaire, InZ Residence and Cairnhill Nine, the IoT is represented through smart home features which range from basic (just the digital locks and phone app) to thorough (connected appliances, webcams, alerts etc.). Early adopters can choose how smart they want their home to be, or eschew it completely for a typical home without any of the high-tech bells and whistles.

The march toward a smarter nation however puts early adopters of such technology at the forefront, as things like 24/7 surveillance, stricter security and scrutiny and the ease of remotely getting your house ready for you (turning on the air-con remotely and starting the washing machine ahead of time) can and will fundamentally alter how people do things in the near future.

IoT enables people to stay in constant contact

IoT enables people to stay in constant contact

Therefore, smart homes may sound like the next big ticket item but in truth, it’s currently a boon for people for whom time at home is limited. After nine hours or so at work, is there really enough hours in the evening to have dinner, put a load in the washing machine, wait 40-odd minutes for it to be done to then take out and dry the wet clothes? Where is the recreation? Where is the family time?

How much time is spent doing inventory checks on food stuff left over in the fridge? Why not invest in a smart fridge that’ll do that for you and let you remotely order to refill your diminishing stock?

It can be argued that the time spent from having to do all those things manually is marginal but this is a system that iterates rapidly and evolves with each iteration. It is certainly probable for facial recognition, eye and/or thumbprint scanners to replace the conventional lock in the near future. What we’re seeing is the science-fiction dream of writers from the 50s and onward (perhaps even backward) become a reality.

And we’re so steeped in it that it’s hard to imagine how we functioned without the smart home capabilities for decades.

Childhood’s End

While technology can be used for the betterment of mankind, it pays to be conscientious of the many problems it brings. With much of our data now digital, our information is worth far more than our lives, since information is forever. We already know so little of how companies collect information on what we say and do online. Laws are changing to counter this and they evolves alongside and in areas where there’s a need but vigilance is always on the onus of the individual.

And this especially important now as smart living had introduced a new and persistent threat that until our generation, was more at home as a comic book villain; hacking.

We stand to lose our entire lives when our bank accounts are hacked in. We stand to lose our identity when our social media profiles and all the pictures of things and places we’ve been to are stolen. With technology, there is so much more of ourselves out there in the aether for anyone from halfway across the world to simply take and appropriate as they see fit.

Smart cities is the future

Smart cities is the future

To combat such things, then stricter rules are enforced. Cameras are installed in every traffic light and lamp-post and we’re told they are there to keep us safe. But a dangerous line is crossed when not a second of our time is private as cameras scan our faces and upload it into a database ‘for security purposes’. It sounds like a conspiracy but many times these things have been reported in the media and this is not fake by any stretch of the imagination. At other times, it’s told outright to us but people chose to ignore it, thinking it, “won’t bother me because I’m not special”.

But information – all information – is always useful to someone. Would an identity thief steal the life of someone popular and risk notice or would he rob a nondescript person with no clue? Would a hacker steal into someone who knows about firewalls and how to keep their digital selves safe (for the challenge they might), or would they gain more by hacking into someone ordinary and steal bit by bit, day by day to fly under the radar?

Even if you do not live in what is conventionally thought of as a smart home, smart home living is already part of our lives. Although BTO estates have yet to fully jump onto the bandwagon, owners affect their dwellings with their own measure of smart living. Appliances can be bought and the constant Wi-Fi connection at home means we’re already at the threshold of this brave new world. Who’s to say that a hacker won’t hack into a digital lock and gain access to your home?

The childhood we had where there’s usually a face to a bad person is at an end and though the future is bright, it can also be very scary.

24/7 Surveillance is Orwellian

24/7 Surveillance is Orwellian

And so, when developers, the government and companies alike wax lyrical about the conveniences and the wonderfulness of it all, listen because it is all true. Smart home living is a fantastic thing that adds so much advances to our daily lives that to put them all down on a page would be difficult.

But like all good things, there’s the bad too. Enjoy the benefits but learn more so the dangers that come with over-reliance while being ignorant about smart technology.

Whether it’s at home or on the streets, if we choose to be innocent and naïve over this, then we risk living under a great big cloud of information-gathering with zero inkling of the vast, dark shadow it can cast over us and our families.


Written by: Christopher Chitty


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