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If A Smart Stove Could Suggest Recipes, Would You Buy It?

Whirlpool's Kitchen of the Future is on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The concept includes a cooktop and connected backsplash that offers recipes and other information.
Whirlpool's Kitchen of the Future is on display at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The concept includes a cooktop and connected backsplash that offers recipes and other information.

Imagine this: You just got home from work and, instead of doing the usual kale salad and lean steak for dinner, you grab a bag of chips and lie down in bed.

The sensors — in your cabinets, in your room, on your wrist — can tell that you're not yourself. The data across devices can talk to each other and infer: You're sad. And so, out pops an alert to recommend a movie to lift your mood. Or a latte at just the right strength.

I haven't seen this smart home at the International Consumer Electronics Show, which wrapped up Friday in Las Vegas. But that's the vision industry leaders are selling.

The words "predictive" and "actionable" are the new buzzwords as companies try to figure out how to sell us smart things. So far — aside from some hits like the Nest thermostat — consumers are not lining up to buy and according to Gartner, these products are at the peak of a hype cycle.

Last year, industry leaders talked about making things pretty. This year, it's about making things super-smart — a strategy that toys with and tests our appetite for privacy.

All this brought up a few questions:

What are the predictive, actionable products at CES?

There's a huge range. It's a movement!

In his keynote speech, Ford CEO Mark Fields talked about using car sensors to build profiles on drivers. He clarified that customers would own their data and opt in, if they so choose. And Fields added, "if we use that data, we need to ensure that customers are receiving services or features that they find valuable." Like, get a lower insurance rate.

Big Ass Fans has a ceiling fan that, the company claims, can learn the owner's comfort preferences over time and adjust speed accordingly. So, just integrate with your body tracker by Jawbone and, when you're sleeping and chilly, no need to look for that remote.

In Whirlpool's interactive kitchen of the future, a smart vessel in the refrigerator would integrate with the cooktop and backsplash to tell you what ingredients are in the fridge and help forge recipes. You could also track last-minute guests via GPS.

Do I want the consumer tech industry to sell me tracking as a service?

Privacy and security are both issues. During a keynote, Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez pushed back on industry players who are designing products that stockpile data.

"I question the notion that we must put sensitive consumer data at risk on the off-chance a company might someday discover a valuable use for the information," she said.

And Ramirez said while customers hear that the data is anonymized, that promise isn't perfect. "There is always the possibility that ostensibly anonymized data can be re-identified," she said. Ramirez says the best practices for tech products and for regulators is still a work in progress.

And that's all happening while cyberattacks are on the rise.

Is there a consumer market for privacy?

First off, it could be that the privacy concern — heightened in the post-Snowden era — is what's stopping people from buying a lot of smart devices. A study on the wearables industry by L2 indicates that's the case.

But in terms of products that explicitly market to the privacy-conscious consumer, I didn't see a glut. I did check out a smartwatch from GoldKey that can make encrypted phone calls.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.