7 January 2020

As we welcome in 2020, we were interested to see that the BBC Archive has posted to their Facebook feed a 1989 programme by iconic TV show Tomorrow’s World.

It examined what technology might be in the house of the future, in the year 2020. Curo Services’ Chief Technology Officer, Annie Andrews, takes a tongue in cheek look at the accuracy of the predictions.

The predictions by Tomorrow’s World for a house in 2020 are surprisingly not far off the mark for a 30-year look ahead. The Tomorrow’s World presenter predicts: “You won’t actually be able to see the technology, but it will be there, doing its job, without actually getting in your way”. The increasing prevalence of “Internet of Things” technologies, where the concept of computing is extended to smaller items such as lightbulbs, kettles and doorbells, means that technology is indeed unobtrusively working for us, today, in our homes.

“When I try to explain how we used to function 30 years ago to the younger generation, it’s difficult for me to imagine it myself”, says Annie. “I was just finishing secondary school in 1989. To think of life with no Internet or Smartphones – it’s hard to remember how life worked without some things”.

Smart Light and Sound

The programme talks about some wildly futuristic ideas such as lights automatically switching on and off as you walk between rooms – which is indeed available today. With a smart home hub connected to smart lightbulbs and motion sensors, Annie’s own house has hall lights which turn on as you walk into the room, and off a minute after the motion has stopped being detected.

“The smart lights started off as a frivolous gimmick”, says Annie. “But we’ve ended up using them for efficiency throughout the house – the lights are on only when you need them and no longer. A drawback is that our neighbour is a bit nervous of upsetting the system, so brings a torch with her when cat-sitting for us!”.

Couple this functionality with workflow capability such as Microsoft Flow or IFTTT, and an end user can perform some sophisticated actions, including coupling their mobile phone location services in to tell the house when you’re getting near.

Another suggestion is that music can be piped in throughout the house from a sound library. Annie says, “having both been keen music ‘owners’, my husband and I now primarily listen to music via a streaming service. Tomorrow’s World wasn’t far off when you see us asking Cortana or Alexa for a song – although our choice of music is a bit more Muse than Bach…”.

No More PowerPoints!

Annie says, “I got quite excited when the phrase ‘and no more PowerPoints’ came up”! Imagine, no more death by PowerPoint in meetings, but unfortunately, it was not that kind of power point. However, where they imagined in 1989 that pads would be able to pick up power from anywhere on the wall, it’s not really all that different to wireless charging technology, is it?

One part that perhaps hasn’t made itself a reality just yet is where “windows will take an active part in the home” (again, not that Windows). That is, controllable coatings are placed on the window to vary its performance, to become opaque, or turn it into a picture or TV screen. Even back then the programme notes that it “maybe too expensive or futuristic for most people”. So – it’s not quite there today, although looking at some of the Rollable TV screens on show at CES Las Vegas this week, it’s not going to be too far away either.

An Eco-Friendly Home

By far the most serious section of the programme was considering the environment, and the words resonate today. The Tomorrow’s World presenter says: “But there’s one area where homes are going to have to change. By 2020, there will have been enormous pressure on us to cut down on our burning of fossil fuels to protect the environment”. These were words from 30 years ago that we almost certainly haven’t listened to soon enough.

Back then it was called out that energy management in homes was critical and various improved insolation products were mentioned. Considering again the smart hub and its connection to the home’s boiler, at least the prediction that “The home will use energy more intelligently” is possible to fulfill. As suggested, these hubs can allow the heating system to know your daily routine, and only heat the rooms you’ll be using. So that part is real today, but it’s likely they imagined more environmental change to have happened than actually has.

What Next?

Well, that was the past 30 years. As we welcome in 2020, what do you think: what will the house of 2050 look like?

Author: Annie Andrews

Annie started her career in Microsoft training and consultancy, covering both programming and systems engineering. From here, she was a technical lead with many other technologies during her later positions at Lloyds Banking Group, where she held the role of Chief Subject Matter Expert. Now, Annie has returned to her mothership technology of Microsoft, as CTO at Curo Services.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view and opinion of Curo Services.

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