Smart Homes and the Internet of Things: Background information when reading The Resisters

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The Resisters

by Gish Jen

The Resisters by Gish Jen X
The Resisters by Gish Jen
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2020, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Smart Homes and the Internet of Things

This article relates to The Resisters

Print Review

Hand holding a cellphone outside of a houseIn Gish Jen's The Resisters, people live in AutoHouses, internet-linked homes that are capable of performing certain automated tasks for their inhabitants, such as cleaning up dropped objects and regulating temperature, but that are also used for government surveillance. While the homes in Jen's novel operate at a much more advanced level than current technology, smart homes, or houses in which devices are connected to a digital network, are already very much a reality. These homes, along with smart appliances and other everyday objects that are linked through wireless systems, are sometimes referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Non-wireless home automation can be traced back to 1975, when a Scottish company, Pico Electronics, designed an electronic automation protocol called X10 that uses the home's electrical wiring to allow devices to communicate together. Products using this standard, which are still widely available, range from simple wall switches that turn on a single light to complex modules, interfaces and panels that can manage multiple functions from one place. This allows you to consolidate security features, such as cameras and alarms, along with everyday household items like lamps and kitchen appliances.

With the recent explosion of wireless technology, home automation has advanced rapidly, with many of the world's largest technology companies developing a broad range of internet-connected "smart" products such as thermostats, doorbells, security cameras, lights and a wide range of other devices. However, common standards have yet to emerge, and interoperability between these devices can be a challenge. Even so, these newer systems, generally connected together through the internet (hence the name "Internet of Things"), make it possible to control functions like adjusting a thermostat, locking and unlocking doors, controlling a television set, operating a security camera system and more, either locally or remotely over the internet. In addition, with the growing sophistication of virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, devices can often be managed by voice commands. In The Resisters, the house where the narrator lives with his family doesn't just communicate by responding to basic commands, but is sentient to the point of making snarky comments, offering unsolicited advice and even breaking into song. Thankfully, we are not quite there—yet.

The Resisters explores issues related to unwanted surveillance. Similar privacy concerns surround current IoT devices, although the surveillance is more often by a large corporation rather than a government. An additional concern is that IoT smart homes and appliances can be targeted by hackers. An effectively unsettling (but also funny) fictional example is a scene in Season 2 of the TV series Mr. Robot where Susan Jacobs, a corporate higher-up, has her smart house hacked by an activist group called "fsociety." In the scene, a wall projector turns on by itself and the lights go off while Jacobs is in her indoor swimming pool. Then the water in her shower turns scorching hot and the thermostat drops to 53 degrees. Eventually, we see her on the phone, calling for help while multiple audio and visual devices create a cacophony in the background. "Unplug what?" she says. "Everything is inside the walls."

Despite fears over these types of scenarios, there are good reasons not to write off the Internet of Things completely. Smart houses provide people many potential benefits that go beyond mere convenience. The ability to remotely control various functions can make homes more accessible and comfortable for those with disabilities, for example, or for elderly homeowners. Smart houses can also be more environmentally friendly, as they can be outfitted with features that allow you to track and schedule energy use.

Smart home image, courtesy of PC Magazine

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Resisters. It originally ran in March 2020 and has been updated for the January 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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