The final speaker at IDC's e-Asia/Pacific conference did not address the topic of e-business. Instead, he looked to the day when our houses would know when we were home, when kitchens would tell us how to prepare wholesome food and our toys would help us communicate. Michael Hawley directs the Things That Think research group at the MIT Media Lab in Massachusetts. His group explores the ways that digital technology will infiltrate everyday objects such as clothing and furniture. 'The nuts and bolts are going to start dissolving into the things that are around us,' he said. Despite the odd topic, the professor was a highlight of the conference. He acted more like a stand-up comedian than an academic, making hundreds laugh during his 45-minute speech. Mr Hawley, whose Web page is www.media.mit.edu/=mike , is keen on the connection between technology and lifestyle. In about 10 years, he expects homes will have a nerve centre allowing them to shut down when their owners are away to save energy. 'A million-dollar home is dumber about power than a US$2,000 laptop,' he said. Or perhaps a central home network will scan its residents for a five-minute medical examination every morning. Food also was on his mind, envisioning kitchens that could teach people how to cook healthy meals. 'That kind of magic-ness and synergy that is bubbling up from the Internet is going to move to home appliances,' Mr Hawley said. And even toys are core to the thinking of the self-described 'mad scientist from MIT'. Toys would develop beyond playthings to become ways of exploring communications, as gadgets were created to allow youngsters to play with each other with interactive gear, he said. They would even allow us to communicate with friends, like a mobile phone with much-expanded capacity, he said. He marvels at how far society has advanced already. On a recent plane trip, a flight attendant warned passengers not to play with their furry Furby toys. The stuffed animals, which were all the rage in North America several Christmases ago, speak 800 words and phrases, sing, play games and move. The Furby, he said, had four times the processing power of the Apollo lander that went to the Moon. The attendant, who did not even mention laptop computers or mobile phones, asked parents to remove the toys' batteries. Mr Hawley added that he was suddenly nervous about being on a plane 'that could be destroyed by a four-year-old with a toy'. Mr Hawley arrived in Singapore from 'the jungles of Cambodia' where he had given US$14,000, matched by the World Bank, to help build a school with solar-powered computers and Internet access in a rural area. The schools ( www.cambodiaschools.com ) have been so popular that MIT Media Lab co-founder and visionary Nicholas Negroponte has helped build one. Mr Hawley said Cambodia was one place where technology was being used as a bootstrap to help people pull themselves into a better lifestyle. In one community, people have taken to selling silk scarves online to improve their income.