How and When Will Smart Actually Feel Good?

In the past few months, despite my better judgement, I've become a bit more optimistic about overcoming tech fatigue and somehow lumbering ahead to a fabulous future. In the process of producing and speaking at several events focused on Smart CIty and Smart Lighting, I've expanded my perspective, through a number of different lines of inquiry. 

It's rather strange that I seem to have found a way out of the overwhelming tsunami of tech fatigue, because lately it seems to be becoming much more intense all the time. I can rather imagine what the Luddites felt - our simplistic image of them at long remove is somewhat unfortunate. In vilifying the onslaught of technology in their day they were reacting to what they well knew was the end of so many salubrious things in life- physical work outdoors, closeness of family, control of one's destiny. Today we bemoan the loss of privacy but we all had some part in it, and going backwards and smashing our iPhones is an option few will willingly take. Technology often seems ineluctably evil and inhuman and out of control, almost like...a force of nature? Yes, human nature that is, the aspect of it that says "if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing." So how can we cope? Can we use technology to control its own inexorable juggernaut? 

Maybe so. One reason I feel good lately is that I'm beginning to wonder if lighting may eventually show us a way out of the mess that the building controls industry is in. If some of the hundreds of different technologies that are out there now somehow begin to converge in the right combinations, it might be possible to have devices and networks that are actually easy to use and make interior spaces feel good. They could also eliminate the need for separate standalone control systems. It's starting with lighting, which is relatively flexible and visible, and of course is going through successive waves of replacements and retrofits because of SSL and energy efficiency opportunities. Small cheap sensors, actuators, and energy meters combined with wireless networks may cause a real revolution in building, and a welcome one at that. 

Of course there will be a lot of snags along the way. For starters, lighting controls are fairly simple: off, on, dim, and programmed scenes are what we understand now - other building controls are much more complex, so integrating lighting controls with them will not be easy. Color tuning and dynamic shifting for lighting are possible now, but we don't even understand dimming behavior very well yet: how fast should light dim or brighten? Should we dim different layers of light differently? How does interior lighting relate to daylight, which is becoming increasingly important in green building and overly-glazed buildings? What kind of electric color temperature provides the best balance to daylight? (there's ample evidence that matching "daylight" CCTs indoors is not what most people like.) And we simply don't think of color shifting as something you control your lights for yet. 

So you can say that we shouldn't design against our own better natures, and that would be a valid statement from an engineering standpoint. And you could say that people don't know that they need something (like the iPhone of course) until they see it, and that too would be a valid statement from an engineering standpoint. And if you're a researcher (like me) you can say, over and over, that we need more research. All are true and inherently conflicting viewpoints. The process of evolving always carries deep inherent conflicts within every organism- we're just more aware of them than we used to be. Smart will feel good, I can feel it in my bones. Let's see how long this feeling lasts!