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Our World in the Year 2020

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Feathering the Future Nest

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— Viktor Koen

YOUR HOME IS YOUR HELPER: Not only will it keep a miserly eye on your energy usage — it will monitor your blood pressure and make sure you don't slip in the shower.

Kent Larson, who directs a technology and architecture program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), thinks that future home design could be done by algorithms that tailor the space based on your online activities. "That's what every other industry that makes a consumer product is doing," he says. "It will allow environments to reflect people's personalities and needs and dreams, with the same ease as personalizing iPhone apps."

The homes of the future will know you and respond to your desires. Televisions will figure out your favorite programs and remind you to watch. Technological watchdogs could keep an eye on older residents, tracking their movements and reporting unusual patterns. Think couches that constantly monitor blood pressure, for example. "We'll move from the alarm systems of today, which tell us when you've fallen, to carpets that can tell if your gait is changing," says Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT's AgeLab. "We'll be able to see how often you're using your appliances and/or using the bathroom at night. The idea is to be predictive regarding health."

And, as we promised, there will be robots. They'll help put dishes away, carry laundry upstairs, and perform other chores. Roboticists are working with physical therapists and gerontologists on this kind of assistive gadgetry at the Quality of Life Technology Center at Car ­ negie Mellon University. One of the questions they ponder: How will humans interact with their mechanical servants? "We found out recently that people prefer robots that apologize when they make a mistake," says executive director Jim Osborn.

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