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Okay, so you're tired of hearing about the Jetsons, the Flintstones, and Batman 2099. But you still want to know what the future holds in store for you. The millennium bash has passed you by and now its time to take stock and see what kind of life you're going to live. While it might not resemble the future of cartoons and comic books, the past wasn't the same as we portray them either-so don't fret if you never have a house that looks like the Jetsons' or like the "Home of the Future" that used to stand in Disneyland.

Computer manufacturers and concept home designers are all busily scurrying to place their stamp upon the way future Americans live and the way their houses are built. Networked houses with long-distance access, sensors for every activity you can imagine, home security taken to a new level, and convenience controls to maintain every aspect of your home are all in the works. And if the various companies offering these miracle devices have their way, your home will be filled with hundreds of electric gadgets that will improve your life and increase convenience for everything from letting the dog out to shopping for groceries.

One way that electronic companies are hoping to improve the quality of your life is by decentralizing the controls for various devices. By allowing you to control the air conditioning and heating from every room in the house, your comfort will be assured when you wake up or go to sleep or any time between; and since you'll be able to shut of lights and appliances from other rooms in the house, you won't ever have to get up and walk downstairs to close up just when you thought you could fall asleep. Moreover, control over a central sound system will give you access to your music from every room or all of them at once. Now that's surround sound!

Sensors and logical control systems will enable all manner of automation in the upkeep of the home of the future. Vehicle alert systems will tell you when your visitors have arrived, while monitors for flood, fire, freezing, and power outages will assure you of a rapid response time to problems and keep your house safe while you're away. When you leave for vacation, light sensors will automatically turn on selected (or random) lights to give the appearance of residents. Even your automatic sprinklers will be improved, with sensors to shut them off during rain or near freezing temperatures. Motion sensors can be used to aim water guns and emit high-pitched sounds to ward off stray and unwelcome animals, while your pets can be shunned away from valuable furniture by sounds or harmless electrical impulses.

Your pets will receive daily care, whether you are home or not, with automatic feeders and pet flaps that will open and close upon proximity of your pet and his magnetic collar. No stray animals will be able to enter the home, but your dogs and cats will be able to come and go at their pleasure!

All of these advantages, fantastic though they sound, are available with today's technologies; but other innovations towards which Microsoft, Sun and others are striving have yet to be achieved. The primary goal of these companies is to network an entire home and all of its appliances. In doing so, microwaves would know how long to cook your meals just by scanning the labels and refrigerators would know to order you more food from an online grocer. And don't forget the car parked in your garage. It will be loaded with carPC and its voice recognition software to operate the radio, air-conditioning, Global Positioning System (GPS), and telephone-it will even read your e-mail out to you. Computerized cars will also allow the kids to play computer games in the back seat with their wireless mice and seatback screens.

Unfortunately, we're still a bit far afield from putting these ideas together. At a conference in January of 2000, even CEO Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems had difficulty in getting his presentation examples to work. Given the different protocols that different systems (phone, computer, appliances, etc) will be using, forming a cohesive whole is more difficult than just plugging them in to one another. Clearly, networking all of the appliances in someone's home will not be an easy task. For that reason, some companies, such as Microsoft, are more concerned with finding ways to integrate existing technologies like multimedia than they are with finding ways to expand into kitchen appliances.

While the conveniences of the home of the future may be unnecessary, they certainly seem interesting, at the very least. From car to driveway to bedroom, more and more aspects of our lives will become accessorized and automated. Given the economic viability and the corporate drive, these changes seem assured, but it remains to be seen when the computer manufacturers, software companies and homebuilders can work out all of the many problems associated with these radical changes and put the new technologies to work.