Bless you! From tissue boxes to toilets, soon our domestic appliances could talk...


One day, in the not-all-that-distant future, our homes will be abuzz with the chatter of domestic appliances. Sneeze? Your tissue box will offer its services. Run out of milk? The fridge will let you know. Befoul the toilet? You'll get barked at by the bog. At least, that's the vision of researchers from Pennsylvania State University, who claim that "smart objects", capable of talking to users, will shortly find their way into the modern home.

The researchers' experiments focused on how humans respond to speech from inanimate objects.

Participants were invited into a laboratory under the guise of a cognitive games study, then, when a laboratory worker sneezed, a nearby tissue box spoke up with the words "bless you", then "here, take a tissue" and "take care".

Two other groups heard the same speech from a human being and a humanoid robot respectively. Questionnaires revealed that participants found the message from the tissue box as human-like as that from the robot, despite the latter's more human appearance.

So - if this is the future - how would you want your appliances to sound? Should they soothe or offer tough love?

Smart mirrors


B) "Ouch"

Smart bookshelves

A) "Good choice"

B) "Who are you kidding?"

Smart doors

A) "Go get em, champ!"

B) "For your own sake I can't let you leave"