As you approach your car, it senses your phone's proximity and unlocks the doors nearest you and adjusts the seats for you.
All of this technology already exists in some form, or will soon. In the future, the only computer you will ever need will be in your pocket.
Obviously all the technology to make this happen already exists. It's a matter of getting the cost down, negotiating all of the various licenses, and building an interface that is easy to use. It's probably ten years out, but it seems inevitable.
[Update: I will acknowledge "it already exists" if you can point me to any link for a system that can do these two things:
1. Stream 3 different HD shows from a central DVR to different rooms at the same time.
2. Stream iTunes-selected songs to multiple rooms, each its own song, at the same time.]
Each of those investments would pay for itself if only you could solve the financing problem. No one wants to plunk down a pile of cash today for a house he might sell tomorrow. And if your payback is over ten years, it's no wonder most homeowners are saying no thanks.
The city of Berkeley came up with an interesting financing approach. The city will pay the cost of having solar panels installed on your home and then get the money back over many years through a special property tax on the property. The tax stays with the property even if it is sold. The homeowner gets little or no financial benefit, but it's good for the planet, so a typical Berkeley resident accept the inconvenience of the installation process and paperwork, and the bother of hosing down the panels every week. I like where this plan is heading, but I don't see it working too well outside of unselfish Berkeley.
And so I decided to apply the awesome brainpower of all you Dilbert Blog readers to come up with a better plan for financing the green retrofitting of homes, both for solar panels and for the more mundane improvements, such as whole house fans. If you succeed, you will put millions of people to work, save the environment, and end dependence on foreign oil (as soon as we all have electric cars).
The first part of the puzzle is coming up with a way to calculate savings for these various green investments. I'm in the process of sizing the solar panel installation for my new home construction and I can tell you that it's more guessing than science. Given all the other green engineering in the home, no one knows how much electricity it will really need. So I can only hope that my whole house fan, for example, will pay for itself over time. Every home is different, so calculating returns for green upgrades is dicey.
One solution would be for the government to mandate some sort of average payback for each sort of greening investment. You might have to tweak the number for region, size of home, and a few other simple variables. But that's a start.
This approach works for Energy Star appliances. Each appliance is assigned one number that is the estimated annual energy cost even though everyone knows that the actual cost will vary a great deal based on region and how many times you open the fridge door, for example. So while the numbers are inaccurate for any particular user, they still guide people toward lower energy consumption on average. I could see similarly inaccurate yet helpful average numbers applied to other greening investments.
If I knew that on average a whole house fan pays for itself in ten years, it wouldn't matter too much if the real payback for my particular home was closer to five or fifteen years. It would still be a good investment as long as the investment stayed with the house, as with the Berkeley model, when I sold it.
The problem with the Berkeley model is that the homeowner doesn't get much if any financial benefit from participation. To make this work in other parts of the country you need to appeal to people's more immediate self-interest. They need to see money in their pockets on day one.
One solution would be to mandate that banks wrap any greening investments into existing mortgages, so long as the borrower is current on payments. That should work for banks since the investment would free up cash for the borrower, through lower energy costs, that is more than the cost of the extra loan payments. In theory it would reduce the banks' risks while increasing their profits. And they could use the government's inaccurate generic estimates for green investments when evaluating these mortgage add-ons.
The next problem is that when you sell a home you get little benefit for any of the greening investments. Green home improvements are somewhat invisible to the potential buyer who makes his or her decision on factors such as location and square footage and the loveliness of the kitchen. To fix this situation, imagine the government mandating that all homes have an annual energy rating, similar to the Energy Star program. For existing homes it could be as simple as disclosing the average power bills for the past three years and the average number of occupants. The energy figure should be prominently displayed, by law, on the real estate listing. When buyers can see those costs, the green investments immediately have resale value.
If every home in the U.S. spends $10,000 on solar panels and other green upgrades, that's a trillion dollars in economic stimulus. It would fix the economy, solve global warming, and reduce dependence on foreign oil (assuming electric cars).
This concept needs lots of tweaking to work. Go.
I wonder if other people throughout history have worried about this sort of thing. For example, one of the most colorful bad guys of all time was called Vlad the Impaler. You could Google him, but his name pretty much says it all. I wonder if after he got famous for being all fierce he worried that some other Vlad the Impaler would come along and ruin his reputation. He wouldn't want to be walking the dog and overhear neighbors talking...
Neighbor one: Who gutted that peasant over by the other dead peasant?
Neighbor two: I heard it was Vlad the Impaler.
Neighbor one: Do you mean the chicken fornicator or the other one?
Right now there's a 16-year old Scott Adams in Canada saying, "Why did that idiot have to write a blog about Vlad the Impaler and ruin my good name???"
Moreover, I think the family calendar is the organizing principle into which all external information should flow. I want the kids' school schedules for sports and plays and even lunch choices to automatically flow into the home calendar. And when I want to decide what to do on the weekend, I want to click on the date for next Saturday and have all the relevant choices of plays, movies, and events pop up.
Everything you do has a time dimension. If you are looking for a new home, the open houses are on certain dates, and certain houses that fit your needs are open at certain times. If you are shopping for some particular good, you often need to know the store hours. Your calendar needs to know your shopping list and preferences so it can suggest good times to do certain things.
Time is closely related to distance. On a typical night, for a typical family, there is much driving to and fro to deliver people and goods to where they need to be. Sometimes it is more complicated than a Fedex route. It would be nice if the family calendar helped us plan the shortest routes to accomplish all goals. The calendar just needs to know what I need and when, then plan which family member with a car is nearest.
Perhaps your calendar could suggest some carpooling as well, all automatically. I don't need to know my friends' business, but if their calendars and mine spoke to each other and found some common driving patterns it could shoot us both an offer to carpool, assuming we had approved those friends in advance for such offers. My phone would get the offer and I could confirm with a simple text message response.
When I read the news, I'm generally most interested in how stories have unfolded across time. I want to know the "new news," as in the topics that have never been reported until today, but I also want ongoing charts and graphs about the "old news" such as wars and the economy. My understanding of the war in Iraq, for example, has little to do with what blew up today and a lot to do with the trend lines over the entire war. In other words, I see the news in terms of time.
In most families, everyone keeps their own calendar and does a spotty job of sharing what's on it with everyone else. In time that calendar coordination will happen electronically. And most of the information will come from external sources, such as your schools, clubs, and organizations to which you belong.
Some time ago I blogged that advertising belongs in your electronic calendar, for your benefit more than for the advertiser. That's because my interest and desire in certain products and services is linked to timing. If my calendar has a certain birthday coming up in a week, and I've checked the boxes saying the person is a certain age and gender, or has certain hobbies, my calendar can start giving me gift suggestions and recommending online flowers and e-cards and the like. In other words, advertisements can move from nuisance to valuable service just by adjusting when you see them.
I think the biggest software revolution of the future is that the calendar will be the organizing filter for most of the information flowing into your life. You think you are bombarded with too much information every day, but in reality it is just the timing of the information that is wrong. Once the calendar becomes the organizing paradigm and filter, it won't seem as if there is so much.
Before you call me a socialist, I don't have an informed opinion on national healthcare. But I also don't have an automatic bias in favor of a free market that gave us Enron, WorldCom, Madoff, derivatives, and mortgages to hobos. I think you have to look at the specifics.