Looking at the plan for future home products of big stacks such as Google, Amazon and Apple, one thing becomes clear: every electrical device in the home will be linked to the internet within a decade, everything that has a cord is going to have data in it. Aiming to bring "a smartphone sensibility to everyday objects" in the home, manufacturers and cloud service companies are providing us with a future home where smart devices are increasingly talking to each other bypassing us in order to serve human better.
Welcome Home is a 3D animated scenario looking at the future relationship between human and smart home devices. Applying Object-Oriented Ontology, the video aims to challenge the anthropocentric narrative by taking objects as storytellers. Taking speculative design as the approach, the video envisions a future home where smart devices are not only talking to each other but also trying to interpret the human needs and come up with solutions. How to define our home with all these dreams and concerns? At once, it is a data centre, a notification landscape, a residence of the 'internet of things', a laboratory of machine learning, a means of promoting branded technologies. Welcome to your future home.
The research project Welcome Home is my MA graduation work of MA Graphic Media Design at London College of communication, UAL.
The project seeks to answer a couple of interesting questions: As physical objects in the home become embedded with increasing smartness and autonomy, what relationships do we form with them? How will smart objects and devices influence the rhythms and routines of our lives? What stories can be told from their point of view if we imagine connected objects as alive creature?
Intending to spark a conversation regarding the future of connected objects in domestic space and facilitate reflection on the kind of technologically mediated world we wish to live in, I produced a 3D animated video envisions a future home where all the dreams and concerns around the internet of things become reality.
Critical Context: The future smart home is________?
1. A data centre. Convenience and pleasure are the key points that ‘smart industry’ sells new emerging technologies to transfigure our lives in the home space. However, the deeply ingrained idea that home as a private refuge can be easily questioned that we are moving in the opposite direction because of this new breed of devices that collect our data for the efficient running of smart home. As our objects are moving into more private spaces, the loT has the potential of shifting our home, which used to be a safe space, to a black box where everything we do can be monitored.
2. A notification landscape. Notifications can be seen as the communication channel between devices and human. However, the notifications created by the multiplicity of mobile apps connected to the loT might create a new landscape of attention and decision-making which distract us.
4. A laboratory of machine learning. As Justin McGuirk suggests, ‘the real impact of data collection in the home is not the infringement of some notional idea of privacy(one that many people happily waive) but the erosion of our own agency.’ Our data is being weaponised in the form of targeted advertising because of the ever-improving algorithm. This will bring a new form of life: imagine Alexa reminds you that your mother’s birthday is coming and send her a gift which labelled as ‘Amazon’s Choice' for you. In the long term, we will gradually rely on machine learning and the role of smart devices will shift from extra hands to decision-makers. It’s hard not to worry who is making decisions, us, or algorithm, or the collective behind the algorithm
5. A means of promoting branded technologies. With the ‘smart industry’ continue growing, technology thinker Adam Greenfield reminds us to reconsider our relationship with the networked objects, services and spaces by questioning this future as ‘the colonization of everyday life by information processing’. His concern more or less resonate with Shoshana Zoboff’s argument that we are living in the age of ‘surveillance capitalism’: A global system or a market form claiming human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data, which later fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. From this perspective, those devices are not neutral, there is always a commercial logic behind connected objects, which encourage us to constantly share and interact.
Concept : Living with object agency
The goal of constructing the scenario is to create poetic narratives that critically engage with the present.
Alexis Lloyd, a product design and innovation leader, proposed that it’s time to move beyond functional descriptions and frameworks for the Internet of Things and start thinking about the narrative of objects. Because of their capability of data storage and machine learning, smart objects no longer become inert backdrops to our experiences, but active participants in our world that can share stories about themselves and us. The question of asking ourselves to think what does our toaster want is precisely Object-Oriented Ontology attempting to answer. The world according to OOO is one full of beings acting on one another according to their own goals and caprices, motivations that cannot be kenned by others.
To take her idea into practice, I choose to use the devices as storytellers. The experience of taking ‘thing perspective’ might change the way we think about objects by listening to their inner thoughts, wonders and frustrations whilst all the arguments and concerns of the future smart home are subtly embedded in the script.
The concept is to look at the “micro” in order to question the “macro”. Therefore the scenario has three parts. The first part is told from the perspective of the cloud. It is describing itself as a system to provide a macro view of this future domestic landscape while the other two parts are stories told from two specific device - a fridge and a camera.
In order to contribute to the existing debate around loT, the speculative narrative in my work can be considered as an applicable pattern to build up more future scenarios within the subject. As Dunne&Raby suggest, ‘As designer we can explore different possible manifestations of a technology before it is fixed. There is very little we can do once it enters everyday life and new behaviors and conventions begin to emerge and solidify’. By presenting future scenarios, the project tries to zeros in on something that is alarmingly close to happening: in the age of internet of things, the objects surround us is becoming sentient, and so a new form of life is not far away.
The design decision was taken due to the tone of the original material and personal interest as I consider a convincing speculative scenario should stand between fiction and reality, familiar and strange. 3D rendering seems to be the most suitable tool to create a scene between virtual and physical.
The visual research process is divided into several stages: from locating a design concept, writing the script, constructing a storyboard, designing the scene and testing with different esthetics. This process requires me to put on different hats: the researcher, the copywriter, the designer or the artist. Through the iteration of the scenarios using video drafts, images and stories, a future smart home is envisioned. The video work is accompanied by a publication named The Smart Home is ___, which documents my critical context paper and the visual research process. You can find some images of the publication here.https://yuxinthewind.com/The-Smart-Home-is-_____-2019-book-editorial