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  • Brian Myers

Automating my Smart Home

Over the last few weeks I've been obtaining some new smart home technology and programming these devices to automate routine activities in my home. I got a smart hub, a smart thermostat, several smart light bulbs, and a couple smart outlets. For a software engineer like myself, this has been quite exciting. These devices allow me to extend the reach of my programming abilities beyond the confines of my computer screen and the possibilities seem endless.

Unfortunately, many of these devices are still pretty expensive, so it's not possible to automate everything at once. I've needed to focus on a few devices and a couple routines to get started. I've set some lights to automatically turn on when I wake up in the morning and automatically turn off a little while after sunrise. Then they automatically turn on again a bit before sunset, but only if someone is home, and finally turn off again when I go to sleep. My thermostat adjusts the temperature to keep the house warmer when someone is home than when we're all away and to keep the upstairs warm while we're sleeping even if the downstairs is a little extra warm.

I wonder if God's experience of "automating" creation had any similarities to my experience of automating my home. Pope Francis reminded us in Laudato Si that creation is filled with "automated" processes of which we are often unaware:

Although we are often not aware of it, we depend on these larger systems for our own existence. We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about. [1]

When designing the routines of my smart home, it was important to understand the technical capabilities of my gadgets and to have the technical skills to program them, but it was more important to understand the people in the home. The best automation is no good if it doesn't respond to the needs of real people. I needed to carefully observe my family to see when they needed more light or when they felt the room was a little chilly so I could anticipate these needs before they happened. When automating the lights, it's not enough to just have them on a timer. The timer needs to adapt to changes in the time of sunrise and sunset. I'm realizing now it even needs to react to the weather. The automation is more than just functional. Though there is plenty of light to see when it is dreary and raining outside, it may be helpful to have some extra light in the house just to brighten people's moods.

I wonder if God used his intimate awareness of human behavior, needs, and abilities when designing the processes of creation. Scientists tell us today how perfect the Earth is for sustaining human life. If we were just a little closer to the sun it would be too hot and a little further it would be too cold. Animals and plants work together to ensure the air contains the perfect concoction of gases to make the air breathable. The water cycle works incessantly to ensure we always have a supply of water to drink. It's as if God had the human family in mind when he automated the universe.

Even our bodies, minds, and spirits are automated for our own good. There are obvious ways our heart circulates blood to our organs, our lungs bring in oxygen, and our digestive systems absorb nutrients from our food, all without our conscious direction but there are more subtle ways as well. Our talents, ambitions, and sense of accomplishment drive us to excel in our work which in some way participates in God's ongoing work of creation and redemption. Our physiological, psychological, and emotional needs drive us to the intimacy we need to thrive. A deep desire for meaning in each of us prompts us to search for God. God carefully created every process with which we interact for our good. I feel more intimately connected to our immanent God when I realize how well he must know me to have so perfectly created me and my environment.

When designing my smart home, I was also struck by the interconnectedness of the devices. Often activity of one device prompts reactions from the others. The sunset triggers reactions from my lights, but the brightness of the lights depends on my thermostat to determine if anyone is home. The thermostat in turn uses motion sensors and cell phone locations to determine presence. My phone uses apps and my watch to determine when I am sleeping to adjust lights and heat. Holiday decorations respond to my voice when it is time to set a festive mood.

God similarly interconnected all of the parts of creation. Pope Francis wrote:

It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. [2]

As a human being and especially as an engineer, I can't help but marvel at the intricate connections between every element of God's universe. I am awed by the sophistication and precision present in all of nature. Science is finding this in the smallest details of subatomic particles and in the most massive phenomena of the expanding universe and in every level in between. God has truly created a marvelous system and we are blessed to be the pinnacle of his masterpiece.

When I sit in my great room and observe my house subtly adjusting itself to meet our needs, I am proud of what I was able to accomplish with the help of some of our society's great inventors. However, my simple processes pale in comparison to the massive and intricate processes happening all around us every day. Creating a few processes of my own prompted me to notice some of the myriad of processes that I so often take for granted, and taking time to admire these processes prompted me to praise the Creator of it all. Our God is truly a great Engineer!

[2] Ibid., 138.

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