Thursday, September 27, 2007


Another of the wonders of the Microsoft House was the smart kitchen counter. It was quite posh, nice polished marble, but had an RFID reader embedded in it, and a descrete projector installed in the ceiling. This allowed for some pretty cool functions.

For example our host went to the cupboard and pulled out some corn meal and flour, then asked the house what he could do with it. The house told him (it could speak as well as listen) a number of recipe options, plus displayed the list on the counter. He asked for the corn muffin recipe. Oblidgingly the house displayed a recipe, noting which items he had and where in the kitchen they were. One item was out, and the house asked if he wanted it added to the next grocery delivery.

He then asked the house to help him through the recipe. It began both talking him through it, and projecting both written and graphical instructions onto the counter top. The house even set the oven to the right temperature to be warm and ready for when it got to that step. Pretty cool if your a cooking novice, but I think I'd find it a bit of a pain. The knowing what items where in stock in the house or not was nice, plus keeping an interactive shopping list. Wouldn't it be nice to just tell your house you're out of spelt flour and know it was added to the list, rather than having to remember with a faulty memory? Apearently the house could even keep track of what food wrappers were thrown out so that it could add them to the shopping list as well.

There was another interesting function. When he stopped the recipe funtion the house reminded him he needed to take his medication. He them pulled out a large box of medicine bottles. If you have an elderly parent who needs to take eye watering amounts of pills this is not at all out of the ordinary. Then, as he took bottles out of the box and put them onto the counter, the house either cirlced them in red for the wrong medicine, or in green for the right ones. Then lettering appeared beside each to show how many pills to take out.

It even then was able to identify the pills themselves (did you know the pharmaceutical companies had standardised the colouring and sizing of medicines to help in their identification), in case a bottle had the wrong pills in it. For that function alone I'd buy this tomorrow for my mum. Getting her medication right is a nightmare!

Again though, this has its down sides. Do you really want a piece of technology knowing what you've bought, used and thrown out? To a certain extent we're not far off from that. Anyone who uses a supermarket loyalty card already tells the world exactly what they buy. But, having it also know what and how you use those goods could be explosive. The house could be programmed to put only certain brands on the shopping list, or heaven forbid the government begin to punish those with an unhealthy diet.

Technology can be a real boon. Unlike the smart mirror I quite liked the smart countertop. There where many functions I know I'd find useful as a cook. However, the potential for an invasion of my privacy and abuse of my data is significant. I don't want Nestle (who I don't buy from anyway) knowing what of their products I have in my house or when I threw them out. These technologies can be wonderful, but we have to use them with caution.


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