Will the Kitchen Please Shut Up!

Talking oven mitts, anyone? At the Counter Intelligence Project, research wizards are creating the culinary gizmos of tomorrow

In the kitchen-of-the-future at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there is a talking oven mitt. It looks like any oven mitt. But when its inventor holds it under a high-intensity lamp to simulate putting it into a hot oven to check on a cooking chicken or cake, it speaks in a reedy transistor voice: "Hot and ready to eat!" When held longer under the hot lamp, it speaks again, urgently: "Fire!"

Researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory's Counter Intelligence Project are also working on kitchen implements that can measure spiciness and the amount of salt in food, refrigerators and cabinets that will monitor supplies and automatically order needed groceries via the Internet, and "smart" countertops that will weigh ingredients and talk a person through a recipe, as well as provide nutritional information. Overall, the plan is to embed a kitchen with sensors and computer chips, connecting all the appliances, even the countertops and cabinets, to one another and to the Internet.

This is the MIT Media Lab, after all, where the creation of "enabling technologies for learning and expression by people and machines" is the mission. Through this building wander about 400 geniuses hunting for new technological notions to think really hard about. Here they refer to the ordinary physical world as "atoms." And they refer to the physical world's halo of increasingly digitized information as "bits." But the lab has not yet solved what could be the toughest problem. The most frequently requested feature for the kitchen of the future is that it clean itself.

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