Data Driven

Will the home of the future improve our health?

According to BK Yoon, that would be one of the benefits in their vision of the ‘home of the future’. Who is BK Yoon? He’s President and CEO of Samsung Electronics. Last Friday, I listened as he delivered the opening keynote of IFA 2014, which is the largest consumer electronics and home appliance show in Europe.

Whilst many talk of bringing healthcare out of the hospital/doctor’s office into the home, Samsung, in theory, have the resources and vision to make this a reality at a global level. Samsung Group, of which Samsung Electronics is the biggest subsidiary, have just invested $2 billion in setting up a biopharmaceuticals unit. Christopher Hansung Ko, CEO at the Samsung Bioepis unit. said in an earlier interview, “We are a Samsung company. Our mandate is to become No. 1 in everything we enter into, so our long-term goal is to become a leading pharmaceutical company in the world.”

Is South Korea innovative?

My views on Samsung (and South Korea overall), changed when I visited Seoul, the capital of South Korea during my round the world trip in 2010. I had only scheduled a 3 day stopover, but ended up staying over 3 weeks. I was impressed by their ambitions, their attitude towards new technology and their commitment to education. Their journey over the last half century is truly amazing. “Fifty years ago, the country was poorer than Bolivia and Mozambique; today, it is richer than New Zealand and Spain.” Bloomberg released their Global Innovation Index at the start of this year. Guess which country was top of the list? Yup, South Korea. The UK was ranked a lowly 16th.

After my visit, I left South Korea with a different perspective, and have been paying close attention to developments there ever since. I believe many people in the West underestimate the long term ambitions of a company like Samsung. Those wishing to understand the future, would be wise to monitor not just what’s happening in Silicon Valley, but also in South Korea.

Aging populations worry policy makers in many advanced economies. Interestingly, recent data shows that South Korea’s population is aging the fastest out of all OECD countries. Maybe that’s one of the drivers behind Samsung’s strategy of developing technology that could one day help older people live independently.

home of the futureWe’ve been hearing about smart and connected homes for many years, and one wonders how this technology would be integrate with our lives. How easy would it be to set up and use? How reliable would it be? Would I have to figure out what to do with all these data streams from the different devices? I used to believe that Apple was unique in really understanding the needs and wants of the consumer, but it seems Samsung have been taking notes. They have conducted lifestyle research with 30,000 people around the world. The results of that research were shared after they keynote. Whilst reading the reports, one feels like Samsung Electronics is now trying to position itself as a lifestyle company, not a technology company. Whether it’s one of the opening statements, “The home of the future is about more than technology and gadgets. It’s about people.” It’s about responsive homes that adapt to our needs, homes that protect us, homes that are empathetic. How much is all of this going to cost us, right? Is it only going to be for the rich? Is it only going to work with new homes, or can we retrofit the technology?

Data driven homes – is that what we truly want?

Their research also says, “Technology will promote eating and living right. Devices around the home will inspire us to make decisions that are right for our bodies, taking an active role in helping us achieve better health by turning goals into habits.” So in Samsung’s vision, the fridge of the future will inform you that some of the food inside has expired and needs to be thrown away. Where do we draw the line? What if you come home from work hoping to grab a beer from the fridge, but the fridge door is locked, because the home of the future knows you’ve already consumed more than your daily allowance of calories?

Do we actually want to live in data driven homes? Our homes are often an analogue refuge in an increasing digital & connected world. We have the choice to disconnect and switch off our devices and just ‘be’. What if part of our contract with our energy provider or home insurer is having smart home technology installed?

Data DrivenIn a recent survey of Americans aged 18+ for Lowe’s, 70% of smartphone/tablet owners want to control something inside their home from their bed via their mobile. Obesity is already a public health issue not just in the USA, but in many nations. Will being able to switch on the coffee pot, adjust the thermostat and switch on the lights by speaking into your smartphone whilst lying in bed lead to humans leading even more sedentary lives in the future?

However, there is a flip side. Rather than just dismiss this emerging technology as silly or promoting inactivity, these advancements may be of immense benefit to certain groups of people. For example, would the home of the future enable someone who is blind, disabled or with learning difficulties a greater chance to live independently? Would the technology be useful when you’re discharged from hospital after surgery?

Is it just about the data?

One of the byproducts of these new technologies for our homes, are data. Sensors and devices which track everything we do in the home are going to be collecting and processing data about us, our behaviour and our habits. Samsung to mention in their research “Our home will develop digital boundaries that keep networks separate & secure, protecting us from data breaches, and ensuring that family members cannot intrude on each other’s data.” It all sounds great in a grand vision, but turning that into reality is much harder than it appears.

We expect to hear about Apple’s HealthKit later today. Who will you trust with the data from your home in the future? Apple, an American corporation or Samsung, a South Korean corporation? Or neither of them? Is the strategy of connecting our homes to the internet simply a ploy to grab even more data about us? Who will own and control the data from our homes? Where will it be stored?

Despite the optimism and hope in BK Yoon’s keynote, I can’t help wonder about the risks of your home’s data feed getting hacked, and what it means for criminals such as burglars, or even terrorists. Do we want machines storing data on the movements of each family member within our own home? Or will tracking of family members who are very young or very old, in and around the home, give families peace of mind and reassurance?

Ultimately, who is going to pay for all of this innovation? Even today, when I talk to ordinary hard working families about new technologies, such as sleep tracking, I’m conscious it’s out of the reach of many. For example, the recently launched Withings Aura system allows you to track and improve your sleep. It’s priced at $299.95/£249.95. If given the choice, how many ordinary families would invest in the Withings Aura to improve their sleep vs buying a new bed from Ikea for the same price?

The video below was played during the keynote, and gave me a glimpse into Samsung’s vision of the home of the future. BK Yoon claimed that the future is coming faster than we think. He seemed pretty confident. Only time will tell.

How does this video make you feel? Does Samsung’s vision make you excited and hopeful, or does it frighten you? Do you look forward to a home that aims to protect you and cares for your family? How comfortable do you feel with your home potentially knowing more about your health than you or your doctor? How will the data about our health collected by our home integrate with the health & social care system? Will the company that is most successful in smart homes be the one that consumers trust the most?

[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties with the individuals and organisations mentioned in this post]