Access and Feeds

Ambient Computing: Invisible Computers Ready to Fulfill Our Every Need

By Dick Weisinger

Ambient Computing is about removing direct interactions with a computer. It about computing that happens without the user even aware that a computer was involved. For better or worse, ambient computing is part of a campaign by technology companies to become more deeply embedded in our lives.

Walt Mossberg explained in his last article that “the computer inside almost everything, will fade into the background. In some cases, it may entirely disappear, waiting to be activated by a voice command, a person entering the room, a change in blood chemistry, a shift in temperature, a motion. Maybe even just a thought.”

Ambient Computing is more about ‘push’ than ‘pull’. Rather than the user needing to initiate a task like searching for a file or responding to an email, ambient computing is more proactive and is able to sense when something needs to be done and is able to suggest and inform users about events that the user may not be aware of. Virtual assistants, chatbots, and smart home devices are some of the early implementations of ambient computing.

Rick Osterloh, the head of Google’s newly named “Devices and Services” division, said that “our vision is that everything around you should be able to help you. And so many things are becoming computers that we think the users should be able to seamlessly get help wherever they need it from a variety of different devices.”

Amazon’s approach has been to develop a platform called the Alexa ecosystem. Dave Limp, Amazon’s head of hardware, said that “it’s not one individual system. It is a lot of systems running in the cloud” and on the so-called “edge,” aka the gadgets you actually have in your house. To say that there’s such a thing as a single Alexa platform isn’t really accurate. It’s an old way of thinking. Behind the scenes, we have this whole layer of software, literally, hundreds of different services, some on the edge, some in the cloud.”

Mike Elgan, columnist at ComputerWorld, wrote that “ambient computing is both a very big deal (it will change our relationship with intelligent machines forever) and also really no big deal (it’s just part of the continuing evolution of user interfaces that has existed since the beginning of computing—the machines work harder to understand and help us and we work less hard to take advantage of them).”

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