Trends in Technology

What Is Ambient Computing and Why You Should Take Note of It?

January 5, 2020 by Bobby J Davidson
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The world of computing has come a long way since ENAIC, the most prized number-crunching machine of the 40s and early 50s. In the seven decades that have followed ENAIC, we’ve seen many innovations that have directly or indirectly impacted computing. Some of the names that come to mind are the internet, the internet of things (IoT), mobile technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, and big data.

Compared to preceding technologies, the above innovations are faster, less obtrusive, and more ubiquitous. Now, ambient computing, also known as ambient intelligence, aims to unleash innovations that could potentially change how we work and live our lives.

What Is Ambient Computing?

Today, there’s so much talk about ambient computing and what it could potentially help achieve. Therefore, understanding ambient computing becomes important, including what it’s for and how it works.

A term that entails several different concepts, ambient computing is the coming together of software, hardware, machine/human interaction and learning, and user experience (UX). The idea is to use an internet-enabled device or a computer connected to the internet without necessarily having the intention to do so.

At its core, ambient computing is invisible, symbiotic computing that learns from the user. It works in sync with us. In simpler words, ambient computing is a combination of household and workplace devices that supplement each other to provide us with an  overall seamless experience. The impact of ambient computing is that it eliminates the need to sit next to a desktop computer to operate it.

The 10 Characteristics of Ambient Computing

Ten characteristics make up ambient computing. Understanding these characteristics will allow you to get a good grasp of the ambient computing concept. So, let’s dive into the ten characteristics of ambient computing.

1.     Invisible

Although they have been happening right before our eyes, some of the biggest technological innovations in recent times have been nearly invisible. This is because the emphasis of these innovations has been on the experience delivered to the end-user rather than on the mechanics of what is needed to deliver the experience. Although data centers with massive physical infrastructures enable ambient computing, this is not visible to most consumers.

2.     Embedded

Ambient computing embeds technology within familiar objects. The purpose of this is to simplify, strengthen, automate, or add new functionality to the current state of objects to increase the comfort levels of people while adding clarity to the use cases.

3.     Familiar

The idea behind ambient computing is to make its control simple for even the most lay-user. In an ideal scenario, 90% of people would be able to choose the controls in a way that allows them to set them and then forget about them. However, this ease of doing things should not affect utility.

4.     Discreet and Discrete

Ambient computing proposes the idea that technology should be in sight only when it is needed.  By emphasizing on this, ambient computing hopes to enable the creation of products that are single-purpose in nature but concur in an all-embracing ecosystem.

5.     Distributed

The ubiquity of smartphones is tempting device manufacturers to use them to integrate disparate devices. By distributing technology, ambient computing looks to enable an environment that is both connected and self-contained.

6.     Modular

If technology is distributed in ambient computing, then how will they function together as one unit? Also, what will connect them? At this point, the theory shifts from the applications already visible to us, such as smartphones, competing standards, and devices in the IoT space, to becoming that unifying layer. Ideally, the unifying layer should be people.

7.     Symbiotic

A major criticism of new technology is that it takes more from us in terms of attention and time than it gives back in the form of user delight and utility. By putting people at their center, products enabled for ambient computing help turn this equation upside down. A major area of focus for ambient computing in this regard has been eliminating friction from several processes. The purpose of this is to consume less of the end user’s time.

8.     Personal

Personalization is one of the ways ambient computing removes friction from processes. Some examples of this are creating cohorts based on likeness and propinquity, the use of background location, and storing personal preferences. While these benefits are valued by most people, some people have been increasingly critical of the associated costs as well as the lack of transferability and interoperability between the different systems which store user data.

9.     Inclusive

A major issue with many of the new technologies is that they are built in a way which allows only a limited number of people to understand them, learning their language, or buy them. With ambient computing, different products can be introduced at different stages of a technology’s lifecycle. This can make it easier to understand new technologies, learn their language, and afford them.

10.            Conservative

Most technologies today have been built to allow an aggressive approach. However, some industry experts make a strong argument about being conservative with new technology. Whether it is due to the rules governing a prevailing technology or self-imposed, operating within a pre-established set of constraints can lead to faster adoption of the technology.

While the above-mentioned characteristics can be used to define ambient computing, not all of them will be found within every ambient computing product. Therefore, you should see the above-mentioned characteristics as a framework for ambient computer and not a fixed template. This will serve you well!

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