Kayla, the surrogate smart-home personality

It was a comfortable summer’s afternoon in 02038, the sun’s light reflecting between the tall skyscrapers with polarised windows, which would be illuminating the shopping streets below for as long as the sun stayed above the horizon. Sarah and Tim were shopping for baby products, as they were pregnant with their first child. They entered the local baby specialty store, in search for anything they’d need to prepare for raising their new-born in their smart home. While the ever increasing dependency on technology in everyday life has changed the standards of living, the basic needs of a new-born will never change. Aside from the infant apparel, furniture, accessories and shelves full of diapers – each sporting their own patented materials and absorption technologies, some even suitable for composting – a new section has emerged in the store since just a two years ago. “Smart home surrogate packages” the sign at the isle read. Ever since they had been living with their personal smart home, they have been relying on them to a point where their home had become their personal maid, chef, trainer, teacher, etc. As the demands in smart home functionalities increased, in response, the big home-tech corporations developed system packages that allowed people to expand their smart-home’s abilities. Each package not only comes with the software required for the system to perform new actions, they all offer a large variety of personalities that can be chosen from. While the “Homestay Star Chef – Roberto” package remained the #1 popular upgrade for any smart-home resident, the release of surrogacy packages have been an ever increasing hype, despite the fact that they are one of the most expensive packages that are not part of the “Luxurious Living” series.

“Is your baby awake and crying at 3 AM? Sally the surrogate smart-home personality will sooth your child by rocking its bed, singing a lullaby and projecting a starry sky on the ceiling. While they take care of your child, they’ll cancel out the sounds of crying through the home’s surround sound system, making sure your night’s rest is not interrupted. If your child is hungry, Sally can cook the most nutritious meals on a whim, taking into account your child’s allergies and preferences.”

Quote from the commercial for Sally, the first surrogate smart-home personality that was put on the market in 02036.

The advertisements were full of promises like this, and they worked. It’s what got Sarah and Tim interested enough to go and take a look at the assortment of surrogacy packages that the store had to offer. “I would like to raise our child in a way that they have a lot of freedom to explore and choose for themselves”, Sarah said. “I am definitely not interested in a very strict personality to be added to our household. You know how I think about the way my parents raised me when I was young”. Tim nodded, and pointed at a colourful box with the image of a kind looking young woman on it. He read the description that was on the back of box aloud: “Kayla is an outgoing personality with an adventurous nature. They will stimulate your child in exploring the world and their own imaginations, while freeing up your time as parents to do the same”. “She sounds lovely!”, Sarah said, “But don’t you think that she might clash with Elain if she lets our child run loose?” Elain was Sarah and Tim’s housecleaner personality, one with a very strict regimen when it comes to keeping the house tidy. “Don’t worry about it, what could be the worst that can happen? Besides, a little bit of banter between our personalities can make for great amusement, right?”, Tim said jokingly.

A little later, now carrying a bag full of baby products and Kayla, Sarah and Tim are returning home, ready to install Kayla into their house to prepare her, and themselves, for the arrival of their new-born.

The ability to assist families in raising their child, without the need to give up on personal well-being, is the promise that many new parents buy into. Despite its popularity among the new generation of parents, and the praising reviews by its users, it is hard to predict how having your child raised by your home will influence their generation. Who will the child form a bond with as they grow up? Sarah and Tim, the parents that are only involved whenever it is convenient or Kayla, the home personality it that is always present whenever their child needs it? And what will happen when they try to intervene? How will Kayla react when Sarah and Tim think they know better how to raise their child? It will be a matter of time for them to find out who is really raising their child.

A perspective on approaching the future – Agency of smart-homes

While the future is unknown, we can imagine how it might be, and explore whether this is a future to be worked towards, or avoided instead. By confronting the people of now with a future that might seem unlikely, it can spark the conversation on our dependency on technology, and how much we want them to be part of our lives. Smart homes might become more than our everyday background, and might become an active part of our family, perhaps even assisting parents in raising their children … or simply taking over this task completely? But before we reach that future we must ask ourselves:

In future everyday life, how much agency should a smart home have over its inhabitants?

Image: Gatebox (2023). https://www.gatebox.ai/aboutus