The future that we see in science fiction promises that we will soon be able to trash our Clappers and start activating our favorite household electronics with our voice. But there are limits today. Blame Earth.
Microsoft's new Kinect audio and visual sensor, when plugged into an Xbox — which is plugged into your TV — will let you play and pause movies with your voice (or with waves of your hands). But it won't let you turn the whole set-up on and off.
"To be able to listen all the time for you to turn it on means there [would have to be] some amount of power going to the sensor," Microsoft's head of the Kinect project, Alex Kipman, recently explained to Kotaku. "We wanted to make sure there's no power going when the system's off, to be good world citizens ... We want to be green compliant and more green more times."
Because Microsoft wouldn't allow a verbal cue for turning an Xbox on, Kipman explained, it didn't make sense to offer one to turn it off. He believes that offering either would make people expect to be able to do the other.
The need to conserve electricity trumped the need to turn Xbox users into 21st century Star Trek captains.
A happy byproduct of this decision is that Kinect users who are in the middle of watching a great movie or playing a fun game don't have to worry about an annoying little brother or angry parent bursting into the living room and shouting for the Xbox to shut down.
The sad byproduct is that our Star Trek future is still far away.