Challenges and Opportunities of Ambient Computing

I’m thrilled to welcome Ticky Thakkar as a guest blogger today. Ticky is Head of the Emerging Compute Lab and an HP Fellow. He leads efforts relating to the convergence of technologies and brings customer insights and new thinking into product development efforts.

Today he’s sharing his thoughts on ambient computing and how it’s woven into the fabric of everyday life.


The era of ambient computing is unfolding all around us. As technology rapidly evolves, ambient computing seamlessly blends the physical and digital, and connects the electronic environments surrounding us, providing a constant experience that preserves continuity across devices, time and space. As the technology landscape grows with smart devices and the data they generate, ambient computing is the fabric that knits them together. It is the next major evolution in computing.

Most importantly, ambient computing automates mundane tasks, allowing us to spend more time on important tasks therefore relieving stress from our everyday lives. For example, instead of focusing on email and messaging, I’m able to spend quality time with my family, I would have seen the relevant information where I was. Instead of wondering if I turned off the stove before I left the house, I can rest assured that it has been turned off. Ambient computing dramatically improves our lives, diffusing interactions throughout our environment, meeting us wherever we go.

ambient-computing-shanewallcto-comSource: argodesign

A key element of ambient computing is ambient surfaces. They allow the bi-directional exchange of information. In order to be effective, the surface has to be smart, recognizing devices and their surfaces around it, allowing sharing from one surface to another, adapting the content to fit any size or shape of surfaces.

Ambient Computing | ShaneWallCTO.comThese surfaces will soon be in our homes and offices. The surfaces and devices will disappear into the background of our daily lives, absorbing data from the environment to make intelligent, helpful decisions for you, without you having to ask. The actions can be instantaneous or learn patterns over time. Ambient computing contains this information at the core, and harnesses the environment for business and personal insights.

“It is invisible, everywhere computing that does not live on a personal device of any sort, but is in the woodwork everywhere.”

– Mark Weiser, Xerox PARC Palo Alto, 1988

Our lives are already filled with ambient devices like Echo, Google Home, and Nest. But now that we have information from these devices and are beginning to see ambient computing in our everyday lives, what challenges do we face?

  • Infrastructure, algorithms and human-computer interactions need to be solved to make ambient intelligence autonomous and useful to society.
  • Edge Computing technologies need to be embedded in surfaces, and sensing technologies need to be ubiquitous.
  • The environmental sensor technology must be self-powered in order to enable long-life without interruption. We need always-on, always-connected devices.
  • Security and privacy is something that needs to be carefully considered. Cameras everywhere, on at all times, present big challenges.
  • Constant connectivity can lead to constant work, as many have discovered. Some may find this convenient, but others find it inescapable.

As you can see, ambient computing brings opportunities and challenges that we must overcome. What challenges do you think we face as ambient computing becomes part of our everyday lives? I’d love to hear your comments below.

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