All those devices give us access to bundled entertainment packages and shopping platforms, which rely on our personal and behavioral data. Because our data are managed by one of these companies — companies that also sold us all the A.I.-powered stuff in our homes — we are unwittingly choosing our tribes. Without realizing it, you are already a Google family or an Apple family or an Amazon family.
What does that designation imply for the coming years?
Apple’s products tend to be the priciest, but they also come with the fewest glitches, viruses and bugs. As a result, they are attractive to people with little technical knowledge and a lot of disposable income. Apple’s future smart glasses, smart toilets and custom refrigerators might carry on the company’s long tradition of expensive devices anyone can use right out of the box. The families, wherever they call home, will be living a life optimized by a handful of developers in Cupertino.
Google’s current egalitarian approach to tech could shift to a future tiered system of access and permissions. Families who can afford the upgrade fees and have enough tech savvy could manually unlock their systems and connect to a greater variety of devices, such as coffee makers, 3-D printers and outdoor irrigation systems. But a lower-income tier might offer families access in exchange for advertising. Those families would have a small selection of devices and appliances available, and they would come with restrictions and limited data protections.
Since 2017, Amazon has partnered with Lennar, the largest residential construction company in the United States, to install Alexa in its houses, and there are Amazon homes all over the country: in Sarasota, Fla., in Bucks County, Pa., in Howard County, Md., and in Fresno, Calif. Even in the quiet, blue-collar neighborhood where I grew up in Northwest Indiana, there is now a cluster of Amazon homes that come with smart speakers, door locks and e-keys, video doorbells and thermostats.
Amazon homes come with built-in neighborhood surveillance: Families type in the name of their community to see security camera footage from their neighbors. So it is conceivable that Amazon might one day build smart homes full of its own appliances — not just microwaves — that connect to the Amazon platform.
By choosing Google, Apple or Amazon today, you are also aligning your family values with the values of one of the big tech giants. And soon, you may have to choose — making just one of these companies a custodian of all your family’s data. The unintended consequence of this kind of home automation could be a digital caste system that’s much more daunting than the prospect of making microwave popcorn the old-fashioned way.