Ambient computing – the combination of end point hardware, software, user experience and machines/human machine interaction and learning is the fabric of everyday life. It is about using a computer or far field communication–enabled device or internet-enabled device, without necessarily consciously using it. For instance, we no longer have to use a desktop to be operating a computer. That is the effect of ambient computing – the accumulation of collective devices we use in our homes and workplaces become extensions of each other; they’re invisible to us, work in sync with us, and offer us an overall seamless experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and ambient computing are directly related. IoT describes the smart home and how the devices connect. Ambient computing is what happens when these devices are connected, and more so, what they learn from each other.
Think of smart dwellings; you enter the building with your ID card, and it automatically remembers your preferred lighting and ambient temperature, knows how you like your coffee, can recall when your first meeting of the day is due to start, and more. From smart phones and TVs, watches, and voice-activated digital assistants to intelligent coffee machines, smart lighting, and daylight-imitating alarm clocks, the ambient computing experience is all around us.
But what are the capabilities of ambient computing and IoT in our workplaces?
Ambient computing at the workplace
Ambient computing can help a business function to its full potential, eliminate unnecessary steps in processes, and collect, analyze, and actively learn from data.
Ambient computing in the workplace turns the traditional computer-employee relationship on its head. Instead of the employee utilizing the computer to gather information, the computer (or rather, collection of internet-enabled devices) gathers the information for us when we indicate we need it or perhaps even before. Ambient computing already provides some of the intelligent services that are becoming commonplace in the modern work environment, such as voice-driven speakers, smart thermostats, virtual agents, and chatbots.
In striking contrast to traditional computing platforms, ambient computing moves the focus away from the physical device. As we move toward fully-integrated smart workplaces, ambient computing will become the norm and provide multiple benefits including cost savings for business leaders and decision makers, and increased collaboration among employees.
Five characteristics of ambient computing
Among several characteristics of ambient computing, here are five to note.
Invisible: Foremost, ambient computing is behind the scenes. For instance, in a business conference room environment, an AI system can gather information and take notes on a conversation without employees realizing. At the same time, the camera and speaker system can adjust to improve image quality, focus on the person talking in the discussion, and block unnecessary noise.
Data-centric: Data centers are at the heart of ambient computing. The more data-intelligent systems, the better their ability is to use context to understand certain situations. In remote contact centers, customer data can support virtual assistants as they make suggestions on how to improve a conversation.
Embedded: Ambient computing embeds technology into the workplace environment. For instance, in the communication environment, intelligent assistants embedded into collaboration tools can help users find information and set reminders that enhance productivity.
Familiar: Ambient computing is simple and easy to adopt. In the communication environment, intelligent tools are becoming more natural. Now that users can communicate via voice or text, they can choose the experience that works best for them.
Inclusive: Ambient computing integrates tools seamlessly. For instance, an AI bot can bring information from CRM systems and help desks into collaboration tools, which is far more useful than nonintegrated systems.
What drives ambient computing?
A cluster of technologies is enabling the move toward ambient intelligence.
Zero UI (user interface) – The replacement of a computer screen and keyboard with machines that respond to voice, touch, movement, and biometrics (for instance, fingerprint and retina recognition).
Artificial intelligence – The emergence of computer systems that can perform tasks that a human would generally do, such as reading documents, data analysis, decision-making, and language translation.
Machine learning – The ability of computerized devices to build skills and improve performance of various tasks without being explicitly programmed to do so.
Natural language processing – Enables computers to listen to people asking questions, understand their words, and reply.
Edge computing – Improves responsiveness and turnaround time by moving processing from a “centralized” processing center (most likely in the cloud) to smaller processing centers close to where the information is being created or delivered.
Mesh networks – Provide continuous connectivity as computerized device users move from space to space. Mesh networks can encompass seamless movement among a multitude of devices, applications, locations, and individual networks.
The future of ambient computing
Ambient computing will continue to leverage machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence to create a digital workplace environment in which companies will integrate technology seamlessly and invisibly into every business process, thereby maximizing usefulness while minimizing distractions. As technologies in the ambient computing-IoT ecosystems of homes and workspaces become embedded into retail stores, hospitals, and transportation services, IoT sensors will feed people’s movements and routines into the cloud. AI systems will absorb this data and refine the directions they give to the smart devices to execute ambient computing scenarios. The result: A future of radically better experiences in which nearly everything is integrated, interconnected, and intelligent – without the mess of applications and actions that are necessary today.