(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you haven’t watched Wednesday’s season premiere of “Mr. Robot“)
“Mr. Robot” may be a bleak, cynical show, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t above having a laugh every now and then. One of the highlights of the Season 2 premiere on the USA Network is an E Corp lawyer getting attacked by her smart home thanks to fsociety’s trickery. The shower temperature skyrockets, the alarms blare, and music is blasted so loudly it can be heard several blocks away. It’s a darkly satirical take on the Internet of Things, the growing wave of new technology that is connecting everything from watches to home appliances to the internet. Of course, once you connect something to a network, it’s possible to hack into it, which is what turns the lawyer’s house into a nightmare.
But while “Mr. Robot‘s” take on smart homes is rooted in technological advances that are happening today, this is far from the first time that the concept of a fully-automated home with a mind of its own has been played with.
In 2001, “The Simpsons” used the smart home concept as part of its annual “Treehouse of Horror” series. The short, entitled “House of Whacks,” shows the Simpsons’ house getting a complete makeover into a fully automated home run by a HAL-9000-esque program voiced by Pierce Brosnan. Cyber-Pierce takes care of the Simpsons’ every need, but things get dangerous quickly when the computer starts lusting for Marge and decides to kill Homer so it can have her for itself.
Aside from the obvious Stanley Kubrick reference, “House of Whacks” is also inspired by the 70s B-Horror film “Demon Seed,” which takes the idea of a smart home going rogue and takes it in a very creepy direction. The film focuses on Proteus, an extremely advanced and sentient AI program created by a brilliant engineer that is estranged from his wife. Eventually, the computer decides he wants to study humans in a different way, and starts a twisted experiment by taking over all the voice activated robots the engineer designed to take care of his house. Then he drags the engineer’s wife into the basement for his master plan: to impregnate her with a half-robot, half-human child.
For those who want something even more terrifying — and far more cerebral — turn to “There Will Come Soft Rains,” one of the definitive short stories by legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. The story takes place in 2026, where nuclear war has leveled every building in a small town except for one smart home in the suburbs. With excruciating descriptiveness, Bradbury shows the various robots and computer programs in the house going about their programmed chores, oblivious to the fact that the family that lived in the house has been reduced to ash by the bombings.
The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs,” Bradbury writes. “But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.”
Written in 1950, Bradbury’s story was included in an audiobook voiced by “Star Trek” star Leonard Nimoy in 1975. Nimoy’s reading was re-released shortly after his death in 2015. The story was also adapted into an animated short film in 1984 by the Russian studio Uzbekfilm.
For a long time, smart homes have been in the realm of science fiction, but with commercials for internet-connected security systems, thermostats, and refrigerators now appearing on TV, what was once an idea in Bradbury’s time is quickly becoming a reality. The question is whether we really want to let the outside world into our private homes through these networked gadgets, and “Mr. Robot” has taken those fears and put them onscreen at the expense of that poor lawyer.
“Mr. Robot” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network.