A Framework for Metadesigning the Thermostat

These follow on from a contemporary introduction to thermostats

Teasing The User

My 2002 paper (The Tragedy of the Thermostat is a philosophical overview (download). It envisions smart gadgets that would:

SUGGESTION 1. Treat consumers as though they were fallible, but highly intelligent learners (e.g. toddlers or pets).
SUGGESTION 2. Augment the user's experiences to enhance their responsible relationship with Nature.
SUGGESTION 3. Encourage individuals to co-define their identities in accord with their local communities

grey-spacer.png i.e. not in a solipsistic way, or driven by a State-imposed mandate

Record the (locally situated) context

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  • The purpose of technology is to augment human capabilities and experiences.
  • People feel too cold/hot for a variety for reasons, few of which can be measured precisely.
  • While domestic energy is usually represented numerically, consumer experience may not be:
SUGGESTION 4. Give smart thermostats data that represents the CONTEXT of the regulatory task.

Medical & other care issues

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SUGGESTION 5. Devices that record eating times / calorific intake / exercise.

These could remind wearers that if they feel too hot/cold this may not best be solved by extra heating/cooling.

Promoting local wellbeing

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Exercise at the gymnasium is one way to regulate one's temperature, but bodily fitness can be synergised with community work.

SUGGESTION 6. Data from several probes might feed into a device to show ratio/correlation between:
a) Calorific energy expended in personal exercise over a given period
b) Fuel energy expended to heat up a given living space during the same period.

Beyond Newtonian/Cartesian data

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  • Clocks are probably our dumbest 'instruments of measurement' - of course, they don't measure anything :-)
  • In the last few centuries we learned to trust them in preference to our sensations/judgements or, even, bodily needs.
  • My article Clocks with Awareness calls for new ‘synergies of awareness’.
  • This would need to match the complexity of the nervous system, and its awareness of the environment as/via 'sensate experience'.
  • This experience is both:
    • noumenal (measurable as temperature data, humidity data, etc.)
    • phenomenal (subjective - interpreted via concepts in language).
  • The phenomenal includes (analogue) feelings/experiences that are complex, and may drift
  • Compared with the digital noumenal, these may seem contradictory:
    • e.g. sensory confusion between hot and cold
  • In the West, our experiential language became fragmented/reduced by (formalistic) ancient Greek grammar & Enlightenment science: e.g.
    • By simplifying/fragmenting the common discourse of motion, Galileo+Newton reduced our experiential horizons (or 'Umwelt').
    • Also, we now language our feelings & experiences using jargon borrowed from psychotherapy, brain science, physics, etc.
    • We have 'forgotten' how to experience the full complexity of weather conditions:
      • This is because we have learned to think in isolated, technical parameters:
        • Temperature
        • Airflow
        • Humidity
  • Thermostats are designed to register data in accord with artificial temperature scales.
  • They are also designed to present it in a simplified, numerical format.

SUGGESTION 7. Create complex, blended and 'subjective' indices of pleasure and fun
(c.f. Arne Naess was a philosopher & hiker who quoted Chuang Tzu’s term: 'contraries indistinguishably blended').

Comfort is complex and subjective (not a fixed integer)

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  • In the Nest thermostat, the main user-feedback is a numerical read-out that indicates temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.
  • However, humans do not experience temperature using the rational measurements of a digital thermometer.
  • Lotfi Zadeh invented Fuzzy logic as an intermediary between somatic/experiential reasoning and binary number systems.
  • He also invented what he calls a Precisiated Natural Language that adapts itself to the subjective, drifting perceptions of a user.
  • Outwardly, the user-interface learns to apply the individual user's (developing) language scale of (temperature) values and terms.
  • Inwardly, the control system (translates and) operates using its own (unequivocal) codes that suit the engineer's purpose
SUGGESTION 8.Use Zadeh's Precisiated Natural Language translator to interface with (and tease) the user (instead of a numerical scale).

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