If you’re new to ambient computing, you’ll soon know. The term refers to a world where technology seamlessly integrates with the environment and becomes ubiquitous in everyday life.
In ambient computing, technology integrates seamlessly into our environment, explains Vladislav Bilay, cloud solutions engineer at Aquiva Labs, an app and software development services company. “These are interconnected devices, sensors and intelligent systems that work together to anticipate and meet our needs without explicit user commands.”
“Computing everywhere – that’s basically everything,” said Mike Loukides, vice president of content strategy at IT learning services provider O’Reilly Media. He finds that the world is already getting close to that vision. “A television is basically a desktop computer with a built-in display,” says Loukides. “I’m sure our dishwasher and washing machine have computers in them.” He points out that there are also a lot of people who use smart lights, smart locks and smart thermostats.
Bilay predicts that with the widespread adoption of connected devices, the Internet of Things (IoT), and advances in artificial intelligence, ambient computing will become an everyday reality. “As these technologies become more sophisticated, affordable, and seamlessly integrated into our environments, ambient computing will permeate our homes, workplaces, and public spaces.”
AI is part of the picture, though maybe not as much as many people think, says Loukides. Intelligent thermostats, for example, learn about the preferences of their users. But how much learning actually takes place? “How often do you actually touch your thermostat?” he asks. “And if you raise the temperature a few degrees because someone is sick, do you really want the thermostat to ‘learn’ your new ‘preference’ if it’s just a one-time thing?”
Still, the potential benefits of ambient computing are significant, says Bilay. In addition to the ability to increase convenience, efficiency, and productivity by automating routine tasks and providing personalized, contextual experiences, it can also improve safety by monitoring and responding to environmental changes or potential hazards. “It also has the potential to revolutionize healthcare by enabling remote patient monitoring and proactive health management,” he adds.
“Ambient computing can help save energy by optimizing resource utilization and minimizing waste through automated control systems,” said Alex Sheplyakov, CTO at e-commerce services company WiserBrand. “Additionally, by seamlessly integrating technology into our routines, ambient computing can increase convenience, increase productivity, and provide personalized experiences.”
Ambient computing leaders include most of the big tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, all of which invest in research, development and products that embody the ambient vision, says Bilay. “They are driving advances in voice assistants, smart home devices, wearables, and IoT ecosystems.”
Sheplyakov worries that over time, people may become overly reliant on ambient computing, leading to a lesser understanding of the underlying technologies and how things work, leaving them vulnerable to system failures.
Bilay says users need to remain vigilant when it comes to privacy. He warns that ambient computing’s reliance on interconnected systems creates dependencies that could leave users vulnerable to service disruptions due to technical failures or compatibility issues.
Security is another major concern. “We’ve already seen cases where an estranged spouse uses the smart thermostat or smart lights to molest their ex,” says Loukides. When devices are connected, attacks can occur on a larger and more devastating scale. “We’re already familiar with ransomware,” he notes. “Could someone blackmail a vendor like Honeywell or Nest for taking control of all the thermostats?”
According to Loukides, ambient computing vendors need to take the lead on security and privacy issues. “Don’t make networking devices that don’t need to be networked,” he advises. “Make devices that need to be connected upgradable — forever, not just out of warranty.” Loukides also urges device manufacturers to oppose the collection of data that doesn’t need to be collected.
Loukides points out that most IT companies already know how to do all these things. “The only question is whether the manufacturers who build the devices are willing to do so.”
A transformative impact
Despite the challenges, the impact of ambient computing will be transformative, predicts Bilay. “Users will experience a more intuitive and personalized interaction with their environment,” he says. “From automated smart home controls to personalized recommendations, ambient computing adapts to users’ preferences, behaviors and environmental stimuli, ensuring the technology fits seamlessly into their lives.”
For critics who fear that smart homes will one day turn against their owners, as numerous films and TV shows have predicted, Sheplyakov says the possibility is “greatly exaggerated and far-fetched.” He points out that ambient computing is focused on improving life and seamlessly integrating technology into users’ daily routines. “Advances in this area are focused on convenience, energy efficiency and personalization to provide users with a positive and safe experience,” he concludes.
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