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The Nest Thermostat: Keeping Tabs along with the Temperature

November 5, 2011

The basic thermostat is often used as an example of a very simple adaptive agent.  It monitors the room temperature, and if the temperature is below the desired amount the thermostat turns on the heat, and if above it turns off the heat (or turns on the cooling). So I was intrigued when I heard about Nest, a new thermostat from one of the iPod guys that actually learns and adapts to the temperature preferences for specific household or business.  The basic gist, as far as I can tell, is that their new thermostat adaptively learns over time how to best regulate temperature, and hence energy, for each household.

Here is what they say on their site “No more programming, no more constantly changing the temperature. The Nest Learning Thermostat programs itself in a week to keep you comfortable and save energy.” – http://www.nest.com/living-with-nest/index.html .  Not surprisingly since some of the Nest team worked on the iPod, it has a clean modern look to it.

Here is a picture of it that I grabbed from the Nest website.

So for $249 , you can get a nifty looking thermostat that learns your temperature preferences.

Hmm, it does look kinda cool, but I swear it looks familiar.  I am sure I have seen something like that before – now what was it?

Oh yeah I remember

Its the Hal 9000 from 2001.  Which, is odd, right?  Since Hal, the Discovery’s intelligent computer, spied on, and killed most of the crew.

Is Nest, like Hal, also watching what you do?  You bet.  I found this on their privacy page:

“We collect data from several sensors built into the Nest Learning Thermostat. These sensors register things like the current temperature, humidity, and ambient light in the room. They can also sense whether something in the room is moving. We also store PII about your use of the product, including sensor data and your inputs from mobile and other devices on our cloud servers.” PII is the abbreviation of personally identifiable information.

So, while Nest is managing the temperature, it is also keeping tabs of your movement and collecting various other bits of information about your home and sends that back to a central server.

So what is Nest really? Here is what they say they are about: “At Nest, what matters to us are homes and the people inside them. We’re changing the way you think about your home and the way your home thinks.”

Nothing about energy or thermostats. Nest is about ‘homes and the people inside them.’

If Nest isn’t a thermostat company then what is it?  My guess is that it wants to be a big data company.  The thermostat is just a way to go about collecting household info – like a web cookie or tracking beacon, but for your home.

Should you care?  Should we be concerned when we enter in to relationships/transactions with companies, that might have ulterior motives? Please discuss and comment below.  I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks.

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