Smart homes on screen - how TV and film interpreted our homes of the future

With smart meters, virtual assistants and app-controlled thermostats, our homes are slowly (but surely) catching up to the sci-fi futures that TV writers and filmmakers dreamed up for us.

Alas, we’ve still got a way to go before the roofs over our heads are cooking our dinners and washing our faces without us needing to lift a finger. But to remind you of what humanity might have in store, we’ve pulled together our favourite examples of how TV shows and films have interpreted the future of the smart home, for better or for worse.

Her (2014)

Theodore stands in his apartment. Her (2014)

With voice activated assistants becoming more popular, the capabilities of their operating systems are beginning to have a profound impact on how they influence our lives. At what point do they begin developing personalities that are tailored to our own? It’s this question that Her probes in a not-too-distant future setting. But as cool as that all sounds, it’s the protagonist’s apartment that truly captures our imagination.

Protagonist Theodore Twombly’s home is the ultimate pad of the future - slick design, a killer view of future Los Angeles, and appliances that are sensitive to his movements, commands and moods. His sort-of-human-but-not operating system (Samantha) seamlessly interacts with his possessions and activities in ways that resemble virtual assistants of the present day. The manner in which everything harmonises is believable, even if it’s portrayed as futuristic.

With smart tech coming on leaps and bounds, it presents a world that may not be that far off.

Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008 - present)

Tony Stark sits at his high tech desk. Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008 - present)

"You don't remember. Why I am not surprised?"

"Don't take it personally, I don't remember what I had for breakfast."

"Gluten-free waffles, sir."

"That's right."

He’s invented a suit of armour in a cave to escape a group of terrorists. He’s battled aliens and destroyed most of New York in the process. He’s even had a merry old jaunt in outer space. Yet the most captivating Tony Stark scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are when he’s shooting the breeze with his home assistant J.A.R.V.I.S (or Just A Rather Very Intelligent System).

J.A.R.V.I.S. is omnipresent for Tony Stark. Whether he’s at home creating new elements or out in the field fighting bad guys, the AI is always on hand to advise, update and sardonically scold. Yet the usefulness of J.A.R.V.I.S. and the dependency Stark has on it is at times heartfelt, and it makes us reflect on how important AI systems are becoming in our own homes. The exploration isn’t as deep as we see in Her, but still presents a likely future of us forming bonds with the AI systems that we have around us.

Ex Machina (2014)

The lights dim as Nathan dances to a funky beat. Ex Machina (2014)

On the surface of it, the plotline to Ex Machina is just a bit of harmless fun. A guy invites another guy to his cool mansion to play with his cool new toys. It’s only when you fill in the details that the whole premise becomes creepy and unsettling.

But dodgy morals aside, the sleek and modern mansion owned by Oscar Isaac’s super rich recluse Nathan is no doubt impressive in its minimalist style, with an array of high tech gadgets on show. And while much of the tech is quite standard futuristic affair, we were particularly enamoured with how his brutalist lounge suddenly transforms into a retro disco.

If the smart homes of the future can inspire us to drop everything and have a boogie then we’re fully on board. We just hope things in the real world don’t become as weird as they do in the film.

The Jetsons (1962)

The Jetson family sit on the sofa as their robot maid takes a photo. The Jetsons (1962)

Before man landed on the moon, had a phone in his pocket and chatted with his pals online, there was a family who were trailblazers for the technological future ahead. It’s just a shame that they were animated and fictitious, as their science-fuelled home was a prophecy of what humanity had in store.

In case you don’t know, The Jetsons was a popular American cartoon from Hanna-Barbara, a legendary cartoon studio that also created The Flintstones and Top Cat. Focusing on a family that lives in the future, it premiered in 1962 and served as the technological yin to The Flintstones’ stone age yang.

And even though The Jetson family adventures aired well over half a century ago, some of their gadgets and appliances around the home were on the money, as video conferencing and robot assistants were commonplace in many episodes. Some of their other predictions were a tad more out there though. We’re still waiting for a device that cleans and dresses us in the morning...

Wallace and Gromit (1989)

Wallace and Gromit sit at their table with a smart helper. Wallace and Gromit (1989)

When it comes to bizarre technology around the home, you can’t leave Wallace and Gromit out of the conversation. Their home of wonders is perhaps more mechanical than technological, and errs on the eccentric side of smart. But as ridiculous as these gadgets and marvels may seem, our real life growing reliance on tech for even the most straightforward of tasks echoes Wallace’s array of cracking contraptions.

Did you know the original premise for Wallace and Gromit evolved from some very early sketches that creator Nick Park drew in his student sketchbooks? Initially Park envisioned Gromit as a cat, with his hapless yet affable owner Wallace as a postman. Once Park became serious about filmmaking and gave his concepts a few reworks, they eventually came to life as the characters we all know and love.

The Fifth Element (1997)

A painting of Korben's apartment from the Fifth Element (1997)

With Wallace and Gromit, we see how the mechanical side of smart can be wondrously bonkers. But what about mechanical tech that makes the home so efficient you only need a tiny little room to live in?

Upon first glance, Korben Dallas might not have much in the way of worldly possessions when he’s introduced in The Fifth Element. But after just a minute or so in his apartment we soon understand that there’s more going on than meets the eye. As our protagonist wakes up and sets about his day, we see his bed slide away, the cat flap ping open and an anti-smoking dispensary spring into life. It’s a headache-inducing sequence that happens in about three seconds.

Given that many futuristic smart homes are portrayed as wide open spaces, The Fifth Element poses the question of whether smart technology will eliminate our need for space. As populations grow and life spans increase, there’s only so much room to house everyone...

Thinking of upgrading your home? Why not start with a smart meter? Register your interest today and join the smart energy revolution.

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