Today’s big news was Google’s purchase of Nest for a massive 3.2 billion dollars. I met with the Nest crew back at the 2012 CES, and back then they had just the one product, a thermostat that enabled you to control and also learnt to efficiently manage your home’s environment. Recently Nest also launched a smoke detector, the Nest Protect. Now, Nest has always been interesting because it has this great fusion of design, functionality and app-based control all wrapped around a seemingly innocuous task of home environmental control.
But it’s not home temperature control that Google Nest is offering – it’s the concept of deeply embedded home automation, the idea that you can monitor and control any aspect of your environment. And what really got me thinking today about where Nest could be going with Google is when, just before I left the office, Google sent me an unprompted alert telling me how long it would take to get home from where I was.
Now the idea of controlling a remote device or appliance is not that far fetched, and Google Nest is knee deep in that technology space, and of course the internet of everything imagines a world where all possible objects have an IP address and can be monitored and remotely commanded.
But Google are already moving one step further away from that. By using the information it gathers on what you search for, where you drive on a daily basis, what parcels get sent to you, and what sports you follow, Google Now tries to predict what information you want and presents it to you before you even ask for it. For example, I’ve looked up the opening hours of a museum on my desktop and had the directions and travel time appear on my phone via google now seconds later. Didn’t ask for it.
So, take all that information, then apply it to your home and consider the kind of physical commands that could be performed in your absence – not just temperature control but everything else. For example, you’re on your lunch break at work and you read an article on a new TV series. Google sees this, and commands Nest to set your PVR at home to record that program so that it’s ready for you to watch when you return.
Maybe you have guests coming over and you SMS them to confirm what time they’ll be arriving. Via Google Nest, the pool filter turns on, the robotic vacuum runs around to do a few sweeps prior to your guests arriving, and the fridge churns out extra ice in anticipation of extra drinks because making late night cocktails is what you planned in your last hangouts session.
And of course, if there are going to be extra people staying the night, which might have been confirmed through a verbal chat, Google Nest quickly turns on the air con in air filter mode to clear out and purify the air in the spare bedroom.
Now all of this could happen without having to command it. Imagine that world, where Google has enough information to make these decisions on your behalf, and then has the hardware and infrastructure to make it happen. A driverless car could even pick the guests up at the airport without being prompted, just from the information shared in the communications going back and forth.
It’s this ultimate melding of Google’s predictive software and Nest’s internet-driven appliance control that gets me excited. Yes, there’s massive privacy issues that would need to be addressed, and one would imagine that Nest will eventually share it’s data with Google. But as a concept, where there is less time that needs to be spent making decisions, and then having the tools around us not just to turn things on or off, but your house and your car simply knowing what to do because of your behaviour, then we’re talking an exciting new chapter in tech development.
So… what do you think? Are my ideas of Google Nest your kind of utopian future where we become more efficient and hopefully have more leisure time, or is it more dystopian where Big Brother knows not only your online behaviour but your physical, home-based one as well?