When I heard that Mark Zuckerberg was automating his home using Jarvis, an assistant he created himself, the first thing that popped into my head was another tech tycoon and his home-tech project. That would be Bill Gates and the smart house he built in Seattle in the 1990s.
At the time, Gates’s home of the future was the subject of pretty intense interest, in part because it was shrouded in secrecy. In 1997, U.S. News & World Report‘s Richard Folkers wrote about it in an article evocatively titled “Xanadu 2.0:”
The technology is at times subtle, but always present. As you move about the house, your choice of art appears on high-definition television monitors. Music, lighting, and climate settings all tag along, too. A small pin you wear lets the system know who and where you are. You can go to a computer terminal to pick out a movie or television program. It will follow you to the nearest screen. Only the phone nearest you will ring, assuming you’ve told the computer you’re taking calls at all.
In the 1990s, that was kind of amazing. But here’s something even more amazing: Today, it no longer feels especially futuristic. Instead, it sounds similar to something that you could put together pretty easily with help from Sonos, Netflix, Hue lightbulbs, Nest‘s thermostat, and other products that are well within the reach of us non-billionaires.