Q&A: What Ambient Computing Has in Store

Q&A What Ambient Computing Has in Store

We spoke with Tiffany Pilgrim, founder and technology advisor at Corelini PR, a technology public relations agency. A U.S. Army veteran, she has worked in media, fine arts and UX design.

What is ambient computing?

Ambient computing, or ambient Intelligence – which is also sometimes known as ubiquitous computing – is an AI and user experience technology. It’s powered by machine learning, which allows devices to sense human presence and learn human needs over time. From there, it executes actions based on intelligent decisions.

Think about ambient computing in layers. For example, hardware, software and user experience. The key is to remember that ambient computing operates based on the sensing of mere human presence in an environment, and it readily accommodates that human based on AI perception of what the human needs, i.e., human behavior. 

The object and its hardware can be expected to be made adaptive or transparent, because the purpose of it being built is for it to be unobtrusive in an environment. The object includes visual user interfaces that have the ability to blend into any environment when not in use.

On the back end, ambient intelligence consists of a three-step process: sensing, reasoning and acting. It is naturally perceptive to human behavior, and reacts to motion and facial expressions, and it memorizes daily consumption habits of inhabitants. That includes personalization.

By the way, ambient computing consists of three technologies: ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous communication and an intelligent user interface.

Can you talk more about ubiquitous computing?

Simply put, ubiquitous computing consists of the kind of microprocessors you’d expect to find in everyday objects like cars, hospital equipment, security systems, TV, furniture, watches, clothing and music systems. Within these microprocessors is a memory component that stores and learns input, and in turn responds with output that solves a human need seamlessly. The real intention is for humans not to have to become aware of any devices while carrying out lifestyle habits. So, people won’t be aware of any obtrusive microcomputers during an average day, because the technology will disappear into the background, so to speak, until it’s animated again by sensors.

In addition, ubiquitous communication transmits messages within the object, allowing the object and user to communicate with each other in a responsive way.

On the surface, intelligent user interfaces allow users to control and interact with ambient intelligence objects in a natural way – such as voice, touch, haptics and gestures, including personalization in terms of preferences and context-awareness. In a given scenario, it might look like the shower turning on the hot water when a person arrives home from work, with the shower glass possessing a transparent user interface for object control, if it’s needed. Or, sensing when a person isn’t interested in a TV show, and naturally switching to something they prefer. 

Ambient computing will be powered by wireless networks, cloud computing, like Bluetooth, LANs and WANs.

How is ambient computing being used by companies today? And, where do you think it’s going?

Ambient computing is really in its novelty phase, and many companies are exploring some interesting business opportunities to solve problems for humans. Ambient computing does exist on a small level in society. In the future, it seems as though the goal will be to create connected smart cities that rely on shared local data. Consider the Internet of Things devices we already use, like home systems. The difference is that ambient computing doesn’t plan on using large computing software, unlike other traditional smart devices.

Architects will only build infrastructure with core components with a main focus inside the device. Ambient computing will only build devices with microprocessors that are built to carry out actions on an as-needed basis, based on the needs of its users. That way, users can receive real time data that is relevant, and pull data at faster speeds, without searching through an endless internet.

If an escalation report is sent to the data center that can’t be solved by the device, then analysis and troubleshooting will need to be performed by the business and vendors so that they know what’s working and can plan for the long run. That way the device builds on intelligence and creates easier user experiences for future use.

Where ambient computing is going is up in the air right now, because there’s still research and testing that need to be done by experts. Data security and privacy will be the biggest challenges for Big Tech to solve, because of the open-data nature of ambient computing.

One of the big goals of tech in the HR space is saving employees time to hopefully increase productivity. What are your thoughts about how this relates to ambient computing?

It would be interesting to hear the pain points of employees to get a better understanding of what can be done to save them more time and increase their productivity. I believe as we look at the future of work, more research needs to be done in this area so companies can try to empathize with their employees. That’s just something for companies to think about. Will companies need IT modernization or external consulting? That’s the question. There’s so many innovative ideas to brainstorm.

For example, if HR wants to track the mood of its employees every day, maybe they can implement a small device employees can wear on the wrist, head or on their computer monitor. It would act as a sensor to perceive brain waves or physical presence. Ambient computing is all about sensing or anticipating things from users to increase intelligence with human-computer-interaction.

With any new technology, it’s important to ask for permission first from employees. Or, maybe it’s an app that employees use to track daily moods, like diary studies. That could be a great way to compile an average sentiment of employees on the job, and company-wide. It could also be a way for managers to monitor employee health and check-in as needed to mitigate performance or mental health issues. Also, we could create an option for employees to share anonymous company feedback, so as to make reporting to HR or the EEOC easier for employees.

There are many possibilities, however I’m a firm believer in ethics. So, governments, and Big Tech need to put their users first beforehand by developing data security, privacy, trust and safety laws and policies. Then, later, we can ask users to opt-in to the services of such emerging technologies. 

We’ve seen the rise of AI in HR and recruiting in the last few years. Do you see something similar on the horizon for ambient computing? Do you think this will be a widely used technology?

Yes, I can definitely see ambient computing playing a part in many business sectors in the future, especially if Big Tech decides to push and implement it to help create a more connected world. There will be a lot of discussions about it, that’s for sure, which I believe need to be grounded in reality. Ambient computing already consists of AI, including machine learning, among other things, so I recommend keeping an eye out to see what happens next, and how Big Tech plans to roll it out to the market.

It will also be interesting to see if ambient computing becomes a reality for everyday humans on a large scale. Again, data security and privacy remain the biggest issues to solve, so it’s something to think about, and certainly not something to rush into without careful consideration as it relates to human livelihoods.

Image: Canva

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