Think I could borrow a cup of milk? one refrigerator asks another, in a kitchen just a few blocks away. I have three quarts, not a problem, replies Fridge 2, which has been set on “generous mode.” Fridge 2 continues: Tell your owner to stop by at 8:37 am. My owner is out for a run but he’s due back at 8:35, according to the chip in his shoes. That’s a futuristic exchange we imagined when we saw that Kleiner Perkins and other VCs invested $60 last December in NextDoor, a social network built for neighborhoods. As household appliances become more like OnStar is for your car–all-knowing and ever present, in a word, connected–the big business winners will be those who control this self-actualized machinery and its networks, even if the machines don’t have “eyeballs.”
That’s why Google bought Nest, a technology firm that creates devices that learn from their owners and react for them. Nest Learning Thermostat, for example, learns your domestic habits and helps you save energy, automating and adding nuance to controls people already had over their thermostats, like timers. But it’s the future everybody’s after, when everything learns. The “conscious home” that Nest CEO Tony Fadell predicts–that’s the holy grail. Google has the networks–unless Facebook or a comer like NextDoor can win that space–and Nest is going to make the synapses, or in this case the thermostats and talking fridges.