Sci-fi fans, gadget geeks, and futurists have been awaiting the arrival of automated “smart houses” for a very long time—from the early 1950 prototype of a “push-button manor,” to the Jetsons’ technicolor visions of leisurely life in a home run by robots, to the surprisingly prescient 1999 Disney Channel original movie Smart House.
Those dreams remained firmly in the realm of fantasy until the late 2010s, when big tech companies began mass producing smart speakers. The gadgets, which come with voice assistants eager to do consumers’ bidding, are crucial for making any real-world home “smart.”
Smart speakers are expected to be a future-dweller’s main point of contact with their automated home. In their current iteration, you talk to the speaker, and it relays your commands to a web of connected devices that can turn on a lightbulb or change the thermostat or get a pot of coffee brewing. The speakers also wield a good deal of behind-the-scenes market power: When you ask a question, the voice assistant routes your query through a preferred search engine; when you ask it to restock your laundry detergent, it directs your order to a favored ecommerce platform.