Smart Houses as a New Type of Cognition

In this project, I exploit the idea that what counts as a “cognition” changes in time. Today, this change happens very quickly, as we are increasingly often exposed to new smart inventions, the marketing offers us smart solutions tempting with electronic devises that promise improvement of our cognitive faculties (e.g., a chip will be always there to open the doors, a watch will remind us to walk regularly and a smartphone will provide us with additional external memory) or – even – that it will collaborate with us, since it has its own cognition (“my new car is now much more like me” says a new car owner in a recent advert for a car).

The overflow of new inventions, together with human tendency to project one’s emotions on non-human interactive agents – observed and described by Sherry Turkle – leads to the situation where the scope of what falls under “accepted separate cognition” extends freely and  without our control. In consequence, it seems to be fully plausible that even the least plausible smart objects can, at the end of the day, end up as being perceived as separate cognitions.

I argue that houses are perfect candidates for being perceived as cognitions. This is so for several reasons. First, as I said earlier expectations on what we perceive as an independent cognition undergo radical change. Secondly, as I also suggested above, smart technologies enabling house automation and making houses “think” in our place, grow constantly. Finally, there exists a cultural figure of the haunted house.

Haunted houses are known from fairy tales, such as the story of John and Gretchen where the Bad Witch’s Hun-legged House actively participated in kidnapping the kids, or – more recently – living houses in Harry Potter. Haunted houses have also a typical appearances in horror movies. A haunted house frequently is represented, or reduced, to a ghost that lives in it.

Smart houses, even if still under development, are growing in popularity. In an advert for an international company that design smart house solutions, the family composed of two parents and a girl looking as a primary school age kid, starts a day in their apartment. The smart system wakes them up, opens the window stores, adjust temperature and light. Before leaving for work, the parents can adjust the music style and get help in brewing coffee for breakfast. When they leave for work, their 8 or 9 years old daughter walks them to the lift and then goes back to the appartement all by herself. In the next scene, the mother checks on her child taking a mid-day nap in her bedroom. The mother adjusts the temperature, and the lighting, she closes the window stores. When the parents come back home, we learn that the kid was using her screen-time, and that the house can order food for the dinner. What is implied, is that a smart house acted as a “nanny” for a kid that needed to stay at home unassisted.

Another example of the smart house system that provides support to its inhabitants is depicted in the famous movie by Spike Jonze “Her”.