With this second product, it’s now clear that Nest is attempting to create a new kind of appliance. On the outside it’s sexy, but its workings are all about exploiting the growing infrastructure of sensors and connectivity around us. The algorithms created by Nest’s machine-learning experts—and the troves of data generated by those algorithms—are just as important as the sleek materials carefully selected by its industrial designers. By tracking its users and subtly influencing their behavior, the Nest Learning Thermostat transcended its pedestrian product category. As improbable as it sounds, Nest has similar hopes for what has always been a pretty prosaic device, the smoke alarm. Yes, the Nest Protect does what every similar device does—it goes off when smoke or CO reaches dangerous levels—but it does much more, by using sensors to distinguish between smoke and steam, Internet connectivity to tell you where the danger is, a calculated tone of voice to convey a personality, and warm lighting to guide you in the darkness.
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