What is Ambient Intelligence?
Mark Weiser, CTO of Xerox Corp's Palo Alto Research Center, said in 1991: “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Weiser proved prescient: satellite-based cell phones and the internet are examples of profound, invisible technologies.
In the future, ambient intelligence will be similarly profound, yet invisible.
Just as ambient music plays in the background to enhance an environment, ambient intelligence is embedded in a user’s immediate environment (or ambience). The ambience is embedded with a range of sensors, making the environment intelligent and ready to respond to user desires and needs. Ambient intelligence, once fully evolved, will have major consequences for many industries, including patient care and assisted living. Seniors will gain increased independence with ambient intelligence and their critical care providers will be kept informed with real-time data.
Excellent connectivity within our homes along with internet connected devices are helping us map behavioral data about ourselves. The idea is to push the sensors and computing into the background or into the ambience, while actions a user needs help with or information a user requires can be brought into the foreground using robotics or an interface which displays information. Ambient intelligence has the goal of enhancing the experiences of people carrying on with their daily routines and activities in intuitive ways.
Features of ambient intelligence are:
- Sensors and devices are embedded in the environment
- The system, acting as a whole, is context aware
- Each environment is personalized to the space and to the user’s needs
- The system is adaptive and evolves over time
- The system has anticipatory capabilities
- Intelligence is distributed across the environment (like smart dust)
Ambient intelligence systems act in four ways: sensing, reasoning, acting and interacting.
1. Sensing: This could be wired or wireless. Sensors are
either independent or embedded in a device (such as wearable or smartphone).
2. Reasoning: Systems will be programmed to ‘reason’ and
deliver user functionalities such as:
- Activity recognition and prediction
- Ability to interpret and recognize the context of each activity
- Suggesting a decision or course of action
- Centralized sending and computing versus distributed sensing and computing
3. Acting: This generally refers to changing an attribute of the environment (like turning off the lights or opening a door). It can also refer to a robot movement, like vacuuming, or a user notification, like prompting someone to make a decision.
4. Interacting: There are multiple forums through which ambient intelligence will interact with users. These include devices (like web, mobile or wearable), home fixtures (like washing machines, refrigerators or wall panels) and natural user interfaces (speech, gestures, touch, motion, facial expressions and emotions.)
Implementation & Trends
Ambient intelligence will improve mobility, nutrition, energy and resource use, waste management and many other fields. Systems will begin in smaller spaces, like homes or cars, and expand to workplaces, restaurants, airports and stations. Eventually, they will be embedded across larger open areas and smart cities. They will be adopted at varied paces across different nations, depending on their approaches and regulations for privacy, cybersecurity and control (government versus private).
Per technology trends, ambient intelligence is already becoming a reality. Mobile networks are becoming faster and have less latency, an estimated 50 billion smart devices are now online and wearables are experiencing significant growth. These are all key enablers of the ambient intelligence systems described earlier.
While ambient intelligence is currently in an early stage, enabling technologies are coming into place rapidly and growing exponentially. Once ambient intelligence reaches a mature state, we will be able to communicate with devices naturally efficiently. Human-machine interactions could potentially become more intuitive and efficient than human-to-human interactions. Computers and smart devices will also ‘converse’ with each other, with delegated authority from their human users. This could reduce peoples’ ‘cognitive load’, allowing them to focus on activities that are more complicated, fun or meaningful.
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