Like anyone who grew up watching Star Trek, I dream of food replicators.

“Tea, earl grey, hot,” says Patrick Stewart. And there it is. Amazing.

I’ve got pots and pans and a stove for now (and cooking is fun, don’t get me wrong), but every now and then I look around the house and I can’t believe it: So little about the everyday tools of domestic life have changed in the last 50 years. What’s the hold-up?

I don’t kid myself: unless the singularity really is near, Star Trek’s food replicators are about as likely to turn up in the next couple decades as beam-me-up transporters (but may come not too long after that). But in this heyday of entrepreneurship and innovation, where sustainability and energy efficiency are all the buzz, we’re bound to take some steps toward cooler, smarter homes soon. Say, by 2020. Right?

Wrong, say almost half of the more than 1,000 technology experts and respondents surveyed for the Future of Smart Systems, a report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University.

Forty-six percent of the respondents in the report released Friday agreed with the following, somewhat depressing statement:

By 2020, most initiatives to embed IP-enabled devices in the home have failed due to difficulties in gaining consumer trust and because of the complexities in using new services. As a result, the home of 2020 looks about the same as the home of 2011 in terms of resource consumption and management. Once again, the Home of the Future does not come to resemble the future projected in the recent past.

Fifty-one percent thought the opposite could be true. After all, we have seen some progress with home technologies such as the Nest smart thermostat and high-tech home monitoring. But most survey respondents accompanied their choice of outcome with pessimistic views of how quickly or well we’ll adopt any move toward a smarter home. For sci-fi dreamers like me, that’s way too many naysayers for comfort.

One of their comments in particular pissed me off, before I let myself admit that it made some sense.

Monica Guzman

“Smart homes. Yeah. No. Nobody really wants a smart home,” said Tracy Rolling, product user-experience evangelist for Nokia and one of the survey respondents. “They like for their homes to be dumb.”

Here’s why, if I squint, it’s just barely possible she’s right.

Throughout the transformative development of social media, mobile apps, collective data, and the accompanying gush of personal information that was once considered private, one area of our lives has stay locked, barred and fiercely protected — the home.

Even for the most open among us, trust stops at our doorstep. We’ll check in anywhere but here. We’ll watch our vacation posts in case someone decides to rob us. And I don’t know about you other early adopter types, but whenever I get a ping from mobile app Highlight because someone is near me while I’m at home, I think about turning its location feature off.

One, common vision of the smart home is that of a series of meters tracking your use, crunching the numbers and calculating a more sustainable life — tapping into the smart grid to lower utility costs.

But considering our home privacy jitters, would we be cool with having that data collected, let alone shared?

“We are already witnessing rejection of many smart-grid initiatives. It is perceived as an intrusion in people’s lives, as a way to shift the balance of power from the individual to the utilities,” said survey respondent and Microsoft engineer Christian Huitema.

Are dumb homes really are what we’re after?

I’m holding some hope the optimistic statement at the head of the survey has some truth:

By 2020, the connected household has become a model of efficiency, as people are able to manage consumption of resources (electricity, water, food, even bandwidth) in ways that place less of a burden on the environment while saving households money. Thanks to what is known as “smart systems,” the Home of the Future that has often been foretold is coming closer and closer to becoming a reality.

Check out the full report and let me know what you think.

For now, I guess, I’ll keep dreaming.

Thanks to Robert Abiera for the tip on the replicator technology!

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  • Johnny

    I would LOVE a Smart Home but there are 2 issues that I can’t get around

    1: The state of the technology is DISMAL. This entire market segment has no leadership, very few standards. The only standards that I can seem to find are established around the very niche market of rich dudes that want to control their home with a remote.

    2: It seems that EVERY firm that enters this space is bent on creating a single platform to lock everyone else out. If you invest in once DLNA platform, then you are limited in the telemetrics that you can use to inteface with your HVAC, etc…

    It seems that if somebody (MS) would create a series of standards here, more vendors would enter this market space. I would love to add a smarthome controller to my VM Farm and be able to control temperature, access, and surveillance.

    • ThinkAutomatic

      Couldn’t agree more that the current incarnation of home automation systems is seriously flawed. As early as the late 90’s early 00’s I was in MS Research working on home automation in the computer vision group, but we weren’t really addressing the real problem.

      Leaving MS and consulting with homeowners to install off the shelf solutions I quickly realized exactly both of your complaints. Today home automation is driven by complicated programming and controls that are frustrating and don’t function as you’d like. Smart homes of the future are about sensing and learning. I’d encourage you to check out Think Automatic (full disclosure: this is my startup), and know that even if Star Trek isn’t here today, this is the way the world is going.

  • Bill Schrier

    Actually, Monica, I have a device which gives me “Tea, Earl Grey, hot” almost instantly. It is called Keurig.

    • Monica Guzman

      I have one of those, too. Maybe making it voice-activated wouldn’t be such a big jump … :)

  • Dan

    You can keep the voice activated earl grey tea. I just want one of those fancy Japanese toilets that warm the seat, play music and use a delightful puff of warm air to send you on your way.

    • leelefever

      Hah. I have one of those japanese toilets (sans music) and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. Humans were never designed to use paper.

  • Another Dan

    I agree that the Nokia “product user-experience evangelist” (WTF is that?) comment was very irritating. I too hope that the naysayers are wrong, I would love to live in a sci-fi home of the future. I think that some basic smart home features like smart thermostats and app controlled lighting and security will become more popular, at the very least. Screw living in a dumb home.

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