Home automation, Nest Thermostat, Stable Diffusion
Bob's Tech Talk
November 1, 2022 | View PDF
Q. I want to add home automation devices to my house. What is the best way to get started?
A. When the topic of home automation has come up in previous columns, my advice has been to hold off investing in expensive hardware. Most of the devices you can buy today are likely to disappoint you in fairly short order. This has not changed, but there is good news on the horizon.
The good news is Matter. A new industry standard that allows devices from different manufacturers to talk with one another. This is the technology that I hope will transform home automation products from an expensive hobby to a practical everyday solution for most people.
Some companies have announced they intend to add Matter support to their products, either in new devices or as firmware upgrades to existing products.
Matter should help make products better overall, because each device will have to compete in the marketplace on quality and reliability.
Nevertheless, it is still early days for Matter, and waiting to buy is more worthwhile now than ever before. I expect to see deep discounts on hardware as stores try to move out older inventory the rest of this year. The smart play is to buy Matter-enabled devices. Your patience will be rewarded.
Q. I have wanted a Nest Thermostat for years. I just saw one for sale online at less than half the usual price. Is now a good time to add it to my home heating system?
A. The Nest thermostat’s sudden low price is a good example of a worrisome trend.
Google did not reduce the price of its well-reviewed Nest Thermostat. Instead, they added a new low-cost model with the same name: Nest Thermostat.
The original Nest, priced at $249, has a new name: Nest Learning Thermostat. If you search for online reviews about the Nest online and are unaware of this name switch, you may conclude that the Google Nest available for about $100 is a great choice.
But it might not be what you thought you were buying. It lacks features that made the original Nest highly desirable. There is nothing fundamentally unworthy about either Nest product. But they have very different features. And those differences may not be obvious until after the device is installed in your home.
The key lesson in this story: Beware of online searches for product names. Make sure to add specific model numbers to your search and look carefully for similar names.
Also keep my general opinion about home automation in mind. Most products will eventually deliver unexpected behavior.
Q. What is “Stable Diffusion”?
A. Stable Diffusion is a tool that generates imagery from text input. For example, “a photograph of an astronaut riding a horse” will generate an image that depicts exactly that.
Stable Diffusion, and the other text-to-image tools that debuted this summer, are a fascinating technology that raises profound concerns.
Computers have been generating images for decades. Photoshop is a household word. Movies and TV shows are stuffed with special effects. But those computers are complex paint brushes guided by the hands of human artists.
What makes tools like Stable Diffusion and DALL-E (https://openai.com/dall-e-2/) different is their scale, speed and accuracy. There is virtually zero effort needed to produce a new image. It is possible to string together a few words that describe something recognizable, and the computer will generate a real image in about a minute.
The profound concerns about text-to-images are also very real. Why pay for a single image when you can design hundreds of your own in seconds? Who owns the right to what you look like when a computer can create a photo of you without your knowledge? The potential to create flawless “counterfeit” images is nearly endless.
The phrase “photographic proof” is on a collision course with millions of synthetic images built with artificial intelligence. Coming soon to a screen near you.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:
A continuously updated gallery of images generated by computers using text-to-image tools.
Stable Diffusion Demo
A quick, lower quality image generator that demonstrates Stable Diffusion in action.
One of my favorite blogs — mentioned here several times previously — has a new page. A deep dive on sound.
Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.