Why voice and apps sometimes don't beat an old-fashioned knob

Look forward to your Dickian future of disobedient appliances


Internet of Lawnmowers I recently gave the Internet of Things (IoT) a good look. I talked about geofencing and the communications technologies of the IoT, but now I think it's time to talk about nightmares.

Specifically, I want to talk about my wife's "you need Lastpass for your smart house" IoT nightmare. It's the reason I'm not allowed to buy a bunch of creepy hivemind meshnet frippery and replace all my perfectly good switches and knobs with "smart" tech.

A SaaSy thermostat

Please log in to change your thermostat settings.

*Clickety.*

I'm sorry, that password is incorrect. Please try again.

*Clickety.*

I'm sorry, that password is incorrect. You have two attempts remaining before your thermostat is locked at 37 degrees Celsius.

*Clickety.*

*Clickety.*

Would you like to try a different username?

*Clickety.*

I'm sorry, I have no user by that name registered. Would you like recovery instructions to be sent to your linked smartphone?

*Clickety.*

I'm sorry, your smartphone is outside the thermostat's target area. Would you like to upgrade your subscription to include Iridium-Plated Support and talk to a real human about how to log in to adjust your thermostat?

*Incoherent screaming.*

Imagine if Google made your house

You think, perhaps, that the wife exaggerates? Surely no-one would design such an obtuse widget for the home? I voiced similar thoughts and was forced to examine her Nexus 5.

Apparently, this is a cellphone that has no physical button to allow you to return to the home screen. And, of course, all Android app designers will remember to put a digital version of the home button in every app, won't they? (Hint: no.)

Once smart house tech is out there, some dimwitted designer will either Google stop-moving-my-f*cking-buttons and Gmail-class mangle the UI with every update or simply take away your buttons entirely. After all, voice is the future, and Siri is just so accurate, right?

Now you'll adapt to this, because you're doing everything through the online interface. The web is the perfect medium for interfacing with the house you live in, specifically because of the ability to have the interface change randomly.

You see, careful studies of people who are not you have determined the optimal user interface is not what it was the last time that same study was run six months ago. So right about the time that you have finally managed to burn everything into your muscle memory the interface to all of your house's critical functions will change.

Clearly this will be of use to you as to try – in vain – to reset your password at 2am in the morning, having gotten five hours sleep in the past week and while trying to convince a colicky child that sleep is a good plan.

Of course, the reason your password didn't work in the first place was because some hacker in Nigeria pwned your thermostat after your neighbour downloaded something they shouldn't have. The hacker then discovered your neighbour had a Zigbee-enabled router and used it to connect to your Zigbee-enabled home security system.

From there, not only has the hacker been able to change the codes to all the locks, but they managed to pwn your Bluetooth thermostat that was connected to the same house network as your Zigbee swarm.

The good news is that if you pay them five bitcoin they'll agree to set the temperature to something reasonable until you can figure out how to navigate the interface to reset all your passwords. The bad news is that all those failed attempts to log in to your thermostat have locked you out of your single-sign-on user ID and now your phone, computer and car won't work. Have a nice day! ®

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