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WIRED SCIENCE; SLOWLY BUT SURELY, TECHNOLOGY IS TAKING CONTROL OF THE HOUSE.

It's been a long time since Spencer Tracy's room-size computer endangered the careers of Katharine Hepburn and her research staff in the 1957 classic "Desk Set." Computers have gone from requiring their own buildings and threatening to control our lives to fitting into our pockets and, well, controlling our lives. And while Kate may have scoffed at the notion of a machine knowing as much as she, today we have advanced from fearing their wrath to welcoming them into our homes.

As with any major advancement in technology, the first mentions of a home controlled by a computer may have sounded a bit far-fetched, a bit science-fiction, a bit Jetsons. But believe it or not, you, too, will soon be able to link your entire home through your home computer, and you won't need a million dollars or a computer programming degree to do it.

As with most technologically advanced products, Japanese and European consumers are slightly ahead of their U.S. counterparts. Electrolux, a brand name known here primarily for vacuums, has a product in the European market called the Live-In, a computerized system described by the company as an intelligent unit that helps manage the home by electronically programming everything: from starting the washing machine to storing the recipe library.

Electrolux execs say that while the system will eventually come to the States, the American consumer has not yet expressed much interest in such a product. But as Gen-Xers age and start to buy homes, the idea of a fully networked home -- where coffeemakers call up your computer to tell you you've forgotten to add grinds -- is slowly moving from the status of phenomenon to status quo. In fact, the Consumer Electronics Association has developed the Home Networks and Information Technology Division to accelerate the adoption of networked consumer electronic products.

Refrigerators with built-in, Internet-ready computers already exist. But on the small-appliance side, Salton is blazing the trail with products carrying the Westinghouse or Beyond brands. Through either their current home computer or a spillproof kitchen computer (available as part of the line), users will link a coffeemaker, microwave and bread machine, each with its own special options. For instance, the microwave can read bar codes on packaged foods to determine optimum cooking time. There is also a home hub/command center that keeps track of everything from the time and weather to traffic and stocks.

While all this may sound more like the mess hall on the Starship Enterprise than your own kitchen, home connectivity is already being heralded by energy-efficient electric cars and even the most basic Palm Pilot.

As more and more people are shutting off their landlines -- opting for all cellular all the time -- it's more than apparent that "the future is now" is upon us.
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Author:Quail, Jennifer
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:462
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