Some thoughts about the Nest Learning Thermostat
— 30th January 2015
We moved house recently and subsequently bought a new boiler so at the same time I purchased a Nest Learning Thermostat. If you haven't heard of it check it out. It’s like a thermostat which is connected to the internet and learns your behaviour so it can kill you and eat your children.
We’ve had the Nest for a few months now so here's a few things I’ve noticed.
If the Nest thinks you want to have the house warm at 7am but the Nest also thinks that your house will take 3 hours to reach warm then the Nest will turn on your boiler at 4am which means a radiator right next to your head might start to warm up and the pipes might start to gurgle and squeak and no Nest, NO! Bad Nest!!
The Nest only tells you what your heating has been doing the day after it’s done it. Given all the "clever" and all the "learning" I'd have thought it could tell me what my heating has been doing today. I'm not certain but I feel like this information would be more likely to alter my behaviour.
What I'd like to know is what temperature Nest thought the house was at at various times. It tells you (the following day) when the boiler was turned on and off but it doesn't tell you what temp was reached at those times. I think this would be interesting.
The Nest doesn't solve the thermostat problem of not all rooms being the same temperature. You have to decide to place the thermostat somewhere, and the heating will be controlled on the basis of the temperature at that place. As the Nest learns this problem is accentuated because more is riding on this decision. Our Nest is in the living room where the sun shines in and heats the room naturally meaning that the thermostat might sometimes imagine the rest of the house is hotter than it really is. Maybe it’s clever enough to realise this and compensate but I'm not sure.
Don't get me wrong I love the Nest. It’s a beautiful piece of technology and a wonderful idea. By tickling at the edges of the few aspects which don't quite work (for me) I'm not saying it’s no good, but I do find those edges interesting and it bothers me that something which has clearly has so much attention paid to it’s design isn't quite right (again for me).
It seems to me that in attempting to build something that will learn, the makers of Nest are attempting to make things easier for us. "Don't make me think!" we say, and they say "OK, we'll do the thinking for you". Only at the end of the day I'm not sure it’s necessarily the right thinking. I don't want to think, that’s true (God so true!), but I do want to know and I do want to understand. After all this is a large household expense, I'm not quite ready to trust that to the unwinking eye of artificial intelligence just yet.
What I want is for things to be clearer not just hidden. I think in some ways they’ve tried to hide things to make it simpler and easier but what would make it easier is if I understood it and that means showing me what I’ve done in a way which helps me understand how to do it better.
Maybe instead of the Learning Thermostat they should have tried to build the Teaching Thermostat. I'm not sure such a Reithian idea would go down as well in the west-coast utpoian atmosphere that spawned Nest, but still it might have been a nobler goal.