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What is Ambient Computing?

Are invisible computers the future?

Ambient or ubiquitous computing is a concept in which computing power is ever present, performing tasks to make people’s daily lives easier without the need for them to interact with it. For example smart LED lighting can turn itself off in empty rooms and switch itself on to an optimal lighting level when people are occupying a space. 

How ambient computing differs from IoT

If you know anything about the Internet of Things (IoT), you might recognize a similarity. Both ambient computing and IoT refer to a collection of computing devices that all link together seamlessly, however, IoT focuses on the devices themselves and how they connect with one another, while ambient computing focuses on how they work together once connected and how they interact with users.

The current state of ambient computing

While many smart devices and surfaces fall under the umbrella of "ambient computing," the most prevalent examples at the moment are voice assistants such as Microsoft’s Cortana. By making use of AI, these assistants can perform an array of tasks. In the beginning, they were capable of rather rudimentary tasks such as telling you what the weather forecast for the day was or playing a song on request. Nowadays, they can order your groceries, switch off your lights and even clean your house.

The future of ambient computing

With tech giants like Google and Amazon leading the charge, the scope of ambient computing's influence is likely to increase. Forbes estimates that by 2050, 95% of electronic devices will be IoT-integrated; it’s safe to estimate similar figures for ambient computing, seeing as how closely the two are intertwined. While the concept of a smart home is already well on its way to full realization, the future could bring smart infrastructure to cities, including sewage, power and transport. With the ultimate goal of full integration, the potential applications are limitless.

The risks

As with anything based on data, there are numerous risks. Security and privacy issues will undoubtedly take precedence going forward, especially regarding how and when the data is collected and stored. For full adoption by the public to be possible, the systems need to be completely trustworthy. People may not mind trusting Cortana et al. when it comes to picking them a song to work to, but as we entrust AI with more significant tasks like scheduling appointments or making sure our homes are secured, people will be more hesitant. Digitization increases the demand for cutting-edge cyber security. Companies are currently working on AI-powered cyber defense systems to identify threats much earlier and much like an earthquake system, notify the individuals responsible for taking action.



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