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Google Is Trying to Break Into Your House

And other things you should know about the company's purchase of Nest. 

The Nest smoke detector.

The Nest smoke detector. 

Yesterday Google announced that it would be spending $3.2 billion to purchase Nest, a Palo Alto maker of high tech thermostats and smoke detectors. The move is the latest in a string of high profile acquisitions by the search (and naval) giant, including the $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola in 2012 and eight separate robotics companies. So, what do you need to know about Google's move into the thermostat business?

Did Google just break into my house?
Yes, but much like the British Empire in India, they come in the name of civilization.

What is Nest?
The company makes two products, both for home use—a $249 thermostat and a $129 smoke detector. Both are, in a sense, intelligent, but we'll get into that more in a minute.

I can get a thermostat for like thirty bucks. What's the big deal?
Well, a far as home thermostats can be cool, Nest's product is. Once installed, it learns the patterns of heating and automatically sets itself to consumer preferences. So when you leave for work in the morning, it turns itself off, for instance. It's pretty efficient. 

How about the smoke detector?
Same kind of deal. It has a voice alarm, which is supposed to be safer than just a siren, and an early warning system that triggers when it thinks you've burned the toast. Which is nice, because you can turn it off by waving your arm in the air, rather than a towel. It also interfaces with the thermostat (just like skinny ties, synergy is back, baby!), to turn off your gas furnace in case of a leak.

Who are these guys?
You probably don't know the co-founders, Tony Fadell, by name. But you should. Because when he was at Apple, he was the initial designer of the iPod. (Kids, ask your parents what those were.) 

So what's the big deal?
The Internet of Things is the big deal. It's an idea that has been kicking around business and tech circles for a few years now. Basically, the deal is that your computer doesn't have to just be on your desk. Why not have a linked network of objects—thermostats, cars, watches, and so on—that gather data and talk to each other. So your car would recognize that you were on your way home, triggering your thermostat to heat the house, the window shades to rise to let in sunlight, and the oven to start preheating. There's plenty of uses outside of the consumer end too. Imagine how much easier it would be to run a warehouse in which every object was tagged with an RFID and moved around by drones. There's plenty online about this stuff. At any rate, this is a big bet by Google in favor of the trend.

Should I be worried about my privacy?
Priva-what? I'm sorry, I don't know what that word means. Only terrorists have something to hide.

I want to know more about Nest.
Cool. Here's a great profile of them in Wired.

Didn't Dave Eggers predict all of this?
Kind of? The greatest novelist in the Bay Area (non-Maupin division) wrote a book about tech called The Circle. His stuff was centered more around an Internet of Persons, rather than Things, but it was pretty close. To be fair, many of the more hard core tech types weren't so impressed by the book. Eggers also thinks that if you just got rid of anonymous posters, "all comment boards [would become] civil," so careful how far you trust him as a futurist. 

Maps. Robots. The Internet of Things. Self-Driving Cars. Internet access balloons. What, exactly, is Google's end game?
It's right there in the mission statement. "To organize the world's information." And whether you view the digitally-enabled panpsychism as a liberation of rationality or a panoptic nightmare probably says whether you're on the bus or protesting it. But hey, their stock price is up more than twenty bucks since the announcement. 

 

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