I’m going to say it, Home Alone 4 was way ahead of its time

Home Alone 4 was released back in 2002, and in fairness, the smart homes of today were a distant vision. So what did they get wrong – and what did they get right?
Home Alone 4 movie still
The smart home in Home Alone 4 requires a remote to activate instructions. Image: IMDb

Home Alone – Christmas classics

I love the Home Alone series; probably best to say that from the start! It’s a fun and innocent festive classic dating right back to the original movie in 1990.

There is a lot about these movies that throws up a few questions as a (slighter older!) adult. What kind of job did Peter McAllister have to live in a New York mansion and afford a trip to Paris for his entire family over Christmas?

How do one family repeatedly manage to end up in such a state of chaos that they lose a child? I know that no parent is perfect, but I’m pretty sure that’s a case for social services. Anyhow, let’s put these anomalies down to artistic license for our entertainment!

What I am interested in now, is how much the writers of Home Alone 4 got right. They were creating a movie in 2002 based on a house that is ‘smart‘. This was well before Google Nests and Amazon Alexas sat on every sideboard. I think this was actually way ahead of its time.

We’re not the only ones to notice if the Google Assistant ad below is anything to go by!

The smart house of 2002

So – what did the ‘Taking Back the House’ home do?

Firstly, it had automatic doors. They responded via remote control to voice commands to open and close. The fire turns on and off, and the curtains open and close. Music can be turned on and off in much the same way as we use smart home audio systems now.

One of the big pranks involves Kevin using a hidden doorway disguised as a bar, which is programmed to respond to the command ‘Open Sesame’. When the unwitting burglars try to catch Kevin, they end up caught up in the spinning doorway, instructed by a laughing Kevin.

The funny thing is, much of this is now possible. But, when I think about it, there are far better security controls now in place to manage smart home systems.

Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Alexa has advanced voice and speech recognition settings. Photo: Guillermo Fernandes via Flickr

Smart homes in action

In the movie, the burglars guess at instructions to make the house ‘work’. In practice, an intruder would not be able to activate any instruction if their voice had not been programmed to be recognised.

For example, my Amazon Alexa recognises adult voices and also knows I have a small daughter. If she tries to instruct Alexa to do anything outside of the ‘child safe’ settings, Amazon tells her to ask an adult.

Alex also cannot be programmed to recognise the voice of a specific child, and so does not store any data connecting a minor to their voice.

Likewise, we don’t need to walk around with remote controls. Note that in the movie Kevin needs to speak into his controller to issue instructions but, bizarrely, the burglars seem to not need one.

All smart home devices work on voice commands and can pick up a voice within a few metres.

amazon smart plug
Connected living uses smart plugs to manage electronic devices. Image: Amazon

What would happen if Home Alone 4 was made today?

It would probably make for a pretty boring movie. Intruders would be unable to access the house, as the smart home security systems would not grant them access without instruction from an authorised user.

Their images would be picked up by the CCTV, and automatically sent to the alarm company or nearest police station when an intruder alarm was activated.

None of the devices would work, as they would not recognise a strange voice. Kevin wouldn’t get a ‘magic’ remote for his house, as he wouldn’t need one.

The fire would not be activated, and instead a thermostat would control air conditioning. Kevin wouldn’t need to stay up setting up booby traps, as he could just program the lights to come on a timer.

In fact, there probably wouldn’t be much of a story at all!

It’s really fascinating to see how far technology has come, and perhaps I’ll stop taking my automated Christmas tree lights for granted! Compared to how they were imagined 18 years ago, smart homes are way better than a writer could foresee.

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