• We collected and analysed 150 smart home predictions made since 1988 to find out which are now possible and widespread
  • 7 out of 10 could be a reality using today’s technology and nearly two-thirds of those are now commonly in our homes
  • Smart tech predictions related to work, such as remote office access and cloud storage, have the highest success rate
  • We also asked the public how their experience of successful smart home devices compare to their expectations
  • The most over-hyped product is the robot vacuum – 49% of people say they’re less useful than they expected
  • Smart thermostats live up to the hype the most and in the next 50 years, we’re most excited about our homes becoming energy-positive
Lots of technology predictions from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s ended up being hilariously wrong. They thought the home of the future would include movable walls for maximum sunlight, space-saving deflatable furniture, and even fashionable clothing made from asbestos. 

In the last few decades, smart home predictions have taken on a different meaning. Technology advancements and adoption rates are now so rapid that drastic changes in how we live can occur not just within our lifetimes, but within a few years. The treadmill of change now runs so quickly that we rarely stop to consider how many of our more recent tech predictions have actually come true.

Now that the smart home is no longer the stuff of science fiction, we decided to collect and analyse 150 predictions made over the last 30 years to see which have come true, and find out how the public feels about the next wave of tech that could transform our lives.

How we created our dataset of smart home predictions

To figure out the success rate of smart home predictions, we first needed to collect a lot of them. That meant spending dozens of hours sifting through newspapers, magazines and online articles. We decided to only focus on forecasts made in the last 30 years, because the originators of these ideas were aware of the internet, microchips and many of the other technologies that have since facilitated the smart home boom.

Our sources included books (e.g. Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead), articles from computer and science magazines (e.g. Wired, ComputerWorld, Discover Magazine), the news media (e.g. The BBC, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal), and industry reports (e.g. FutureLabs, Institute for the Future and BT’s Technology Timeline).

In total, we collected 150 different predictions from over 50 sources made since 1988. We then sorted them into eight categories, such as Security (e.g. vibration-activated window sensors), Relaxing (e.g. streamable movies), and Cooking & Chores (e.g. automatic sprinklers and air quality monitors).  

How many smart home predictions are now a reality?

Well, that depends on your definition of ‘reality’. 73% of predictions made in the last 30 years are now technically possible, even if they haven’t all become widespread. That means, if we wanted to, we could create a device or service that is very close to the vision described in the prediction. For example, although it’s now possible to use a scan of your eye to unlock your front door, most of us still use keys. Therefore this prediction, made in 2007, is categorised as being technically possible today but not widespread.

Just over 1 in 4 of the predictions simply failed to come true at all, as they are not yet technically viable or common in our homes. For example, in 2001 it was predicted that we’d have genuine ‘smelly telly’ which would use small reservoirs of chemicals to recreate aromas. This (thankfully) isn’t possible. In the same year, it was envisioned that by 2008 we’d have solar cells that can convert more than 50% of light into electricity. A decade later and the best cells currently have 21% efficiency.

Certain categories of predictions turned out to be more accurate than others. For example, all of the devices and concepts that were predicted to help us work more effectively are now technically possible, if not totally widespread. For example, digital nomads (predicted in 1988), contactless payments (1995), job recruitment sites (1999), and cloud storage that’s available to all (2007) have all come true.

Other categories were more of a mixed bag. Six out of 10 predictions in the Cooking & Cleaning category are now possible. Automatic sprinklers (1997) weren’t too much of a leap of the imagination, but ovens that use radio frequency tags on food to automatically adjust their settings, although technically possible, are yet to catch on.

The 150 smart tech predictions and how they’ve turned out

Prediction description Lifestyle Year prediction was made Prediction outcome
Brushing replaced by mouthwash Body & Wellbeing 1988 Not Possible
Handheld PCs Other 1988 Now Widespread
Robot butler Relaxing 1988 Not Possible
Personalised news feeds Relaxing 1988 Now Widespread
Emergency service linked alarms Security 1988 Now Widespread
Fibre optic broadband Utilities 1988 Now Widespread
Digital nomads Working 1988 Now Widespread
Vast online databases Working 1988 Now Widespread
Remote controlled oven Cooking & Chores 1993 Not Widespread
PC controlled appliances Other 1993 Not Possible

Smart Tech Predictions 

One reason some smart tech prediction categories have seen more success than others is because certain types of devices, despite having various purposes, are now possible because of one or two fundamental technological innovations. Fast, always-on wireless internet in the home is one, which has made many inventions possible, including remote-controlled ovens, streamable TV and films, and sleep-health monitors.

Some tech writers over the last 30 years predicted most of the puzzle but missed a key piece. For example, it was thought in 1993 that we’d end up using PCs to control domestic appliances. However, it turned out that PCs themselves would be largely replaced by another device which, at the time, didn’t exist: smartphones.

When visions of the future weren’t too outlandish, the predicted arrival dates tended to be quite accurate. In fact, 64% of smart tech predictions that are now possible came true within the predicted time frame.

Many other predictions seem to have been all hype. The writers who predicted we’d ‘fax’ 3D objects, embed digital scales under our flooring and sit on toilets that could analyse our fluids to check our health seem to have been swept up by the hype or simply been clutching at straws.

When ‘smart homes’ and ‘smart houses’ started to be mentioned in books in the mid-1990s, writers used the terms to describe a hypothetical living situation in which various home automation devices were present, although it wasn’t always clear how they would be controlled or interact with each other. To see a smart home back then, you’d need to visit a special event or a science exhibition. Today, all of our homes can have their IQs upgraded. It’s no longer whether we can have a smart home, but whether we want one and how smart we’d like them to be.

Some smart tech isn’t all it was once cracked up to be

We asked 500 people who own successfully-predicted and now widely-available smart home devices how their experience of using them compares to their pre-purchase expectations.  

The most over-hyped smart tech device is the robot vacuum. As wonderful as skipping the hoovering sounds, 7 out of 10 people who’ve bought a robotic vacuum cleaner felt it was less useful than they expected. However, people who don’t have a robot vacuum still find the idea of one appealing according to a recent UK industry report.

Voice assistants didn’t score very well on the ‘more useful than expected’ measure, but over half of buyers (52%) felt they were as useful as they expected, which suggests they lived up to the hype after all.

Half of the people using smart thermostats thought they were more useful than expected and 47% said ‘as useful’, which makes this tech the most successful on the list.

What makes smart thermostats so clever, and what could explain why people are so impressed by them, is that they solve multiple problems in the home at once. Not only do some models use your activity to learn your preferences and control the temperature accordingly (so you can say goodbye to cold feet while making breakfast), they save energy and money too. Smart kettles on the other hand, which 43% of people said were less useful than expected, help you make the perfect cup of tea, but not much else.

Now we’ve had a taste of smart tech, what do we want next?

As well as collecting 150 predictions from the last 30 years, we selected 10 predictions made in the last five years that have been forecasted to come true by the year 2069 – 50 years in the future. We asked 500 people two questions about each one: Do you think it is likely to come true? And would you like it in your life?  

Some smart tech predictions seem quite likely to come true, but based on public opinion, inventors would spend their time more wisely by bringing other products to market. Augmented reality mirrors, which would perfectly map clothes onto our reflections to simulate an outfit without leaving the house, were considered likely by 53% of people and desirable by 57%.

Deodorising walls, which would use chemical-absorbing paint to cleanse your home of bad smells, had about the same desirability but only 22% of people thought they’ll become a reality.

The most desirable development, desired by 88% of those we asked, is the energy-positive home – houses that generate more power than they use, sending excess back to the grid. Coupled with the fact that people are so impressed by their smart thermostats, this result suggests we want the future of our homes to be both clever and energy efficient.

The average level of desirability for the 10 predictions we selected was 60%, with a likelihood of 29%. But not everyone agreed on what they wanted.  

Some smart tech predictions were popular (or not) among all ages, but others divided the generations more strongly. Energy-positive homes were popular across generations, ranging from 46% of post-millennials (born in 1997 or later) rating them ‘very desirable’ to 62% among millennials (1981-16) and 61% among baby boomers (1946-64).

Other concepts were much more divisive. One-quarter of post-millennials loved the idea of printing their own food, as in a scene from Star Trek, compared to 1 in 20 baby boomers. People aged 22 or under were also most enthusiastic about a holiday in orbit, with 27% saying they like the idea, compared to 7% of those aged 55 to 73. The development the oldest generation was most keen on seeing go live was – somewhat predictably – pills that halt the ageing process.

Summary

Nearly 500 years ago, Nostradamus is said to have foreseen the Apollo moon landing, both World Wars and the Great Fire of London. But the famous French physician made over 1,000 predictions in the form of vague poems, so retrofitting a few of his visions of the future isn’t too difficult.

In modern times, predictions have been much more specific (Nostradamus never mentioned automatic pet feeders) and, in the last 30 years, they’ve been increasingly accurate. Seven out of 10 predictions made since 1988 are now technically possible, with nearly two-thirds of those now widely available.

Instead of knowing what’s just possible with smart tech, we now know what’s practical. Robot vacuums, despite rocketing sales, have proved underwhelming, while smart thermostats and homes that make more energy than they use are useful in the present and exciting for the future.

One prediction we haven’t seen – the year when ‘smart homes’ are simply referred to as ‘homes’. It probably won’t be long.

Methodology

To analyse past predictions about smart home technologies, we collected 150 unique predictions made by technology experts between 1988 and 2011. The full list of predictions were collected from over 50 different published sources. These sources included books, news media, specialist magazine articles and industry reports. We measured the success of each prediction using two criteria: whether the predicted technology has become technically possible and, if it is possible, whether it is now in widespread use. As well as determining whether each predicted technology is possible and widespread today, if the prediction specified a year by which the technology would become a reality we also measured success by the predicted year. The success of each prediction was determined independently by a panel of five technology professionals. We categorised predictions into eight groups, to find out whether certain types of predictions are more successful than others.

We also surveyed 500 British people in November 2018 to find out which predictions for the future do members of the British public think are most likely and find most desirable. Among the participants who currently own smart home devices, we asked whether those devices are more or less useful to them than they expected when they bought the devices.

Fair use statement

We predict that you will want to share our interesting findings for any non-commercial purposes. If we’re right, please link back to this page so our researchers are credited for their work.