Ubiquitous computing refers to a new era in which networking and computing technologies become so small, fast, interconnected, and cheap that they can be embedded seamlessly into the environment and everyday objects. It implies that computing becomes ubiquitous. User-friendly services are expected to be available anytime and anywhere and only when demanded by users. This implies computing becoming intelligent because it will need to understand human behavior in context. The term ubiquitous computing was coined by Mark Weiser (1952–1999), chief scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California, in a seminal paper published in 1991.
The idea of ubiquitous computing or “ubicomp” has been taken up and developed since then, in many different parts of the world under a variety of terms: pervasive computing, disappearing computing, proactive computing, sentient computing, affective computing, wearable computing, intelligent networks, and ambient intelligence. The use of these terms usually implies a different focus, such as augmenting everyday objects (e.g., a coffee cup) with sensors and/or activators in order for them to sense physical activity and, consequently, to act or communicate this information (e.g., coffee is hot). Others orient their work toward developing natural and intuitive user interfaces such as tangible ones where a person interacts with digital information through the physical environment.
But as a vision for a new era of computing in society, there is a need to encompass three key technological areas: invisible/ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous communication, and intelligent user-friendly interfaces. This means that everyday objects are augmented with computing capabilities and that these devices are able to interact with each other and with their users in a way that is natural and intuitive. In addition to technological progress, which is needed in each of the separate domains, the convergence and seamless interoperability between them is seen as a major challenge for research.
The differences in approaches to ubicomp also are indicative of geographical preferences. Ubiquitous computing is the term most commonly used in the US and Japan, while in Europe, the term ambient intelligence, or AmI, is more prevalent. In Europe the concept of AmI is raised as a future vision of the information society and is associated with the further development of information and communication technologies as a means of addressing the socio-economic challenges that Europe will face in the future.
AmI in Europe is being promoted by policymakers concerned with research, technology, and development (RTD) in the field of information and communication technologies. AmI was a priority area for research within the European Commission’s RTD Framework Programme 6 (2002–2006), which dealt with information society technologies (IST). The objective continues to be that research on IST should contribute to realizing European policies for the knowledge society as agreed at the Lisbon Council of 2000. At this time the strategic goal for Europe over the next decade was “to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” (European Union 2000).
Major steps in developing the vision of AmI in Europe have been taken by the IST Advisory Group (ISTAG), a European group of high-level experts from industry and academia who are advising on the IST program. ISTAG has emphasized, from the start, the human and service aspects of AmI, and that its focus should be on serving people, not technologies (ISTAG 2001). The key ideas for AmI consist of human-centered computing, user friendliness, user empowerment, and the support of human interaction. These explicit human- and user-oriented claims about the future of AmI make the AmI vision different from earlier, more technologically deterministic, visions (Punie 2005).
Ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence remain visions for the future as the key goals have yet to be realized, but they are based on the ongoing development of current and next-generation information and communication technologies and services. These terms suggest emergent properties that will take shape as they are developed. However, the scale, complexity, and ever-expanding scope of human activity will present enormous technical and social challenges to realizing the full potential of AmI. The huge amount of behavioral, personal, and even biological data that is needed to provide context-dependent, value-added, proactive services has major implications for privacy, identity, and security. In addition, the growing autonomy and intelligence of devices and applications is expected to change the way people interact with technologies and services, and has implications for new business models, product liability, security, and service definition.
Ubiquitous computing has the potential to have major implications for the media and communications sector, as digitized information, communication, and transaction services become increasingly personalized, interconnected, and always available via broadband networks (wired and wireless). Important changes are occurring as new Internet players emerge and become established, such as Google, Yahoo!, and eBay. New services under the label of “Web 2.0,” such as social software, blogging, podcasting, and open source content, are also shaping the future of the Internet. These services seem to point to a trend whereby intelligence is with people and their networks rather than within the environment and with devices, as suggested by AmI and ubicomp. It remains to be seen how these developments will interact with breakthroughs in ubiquitous computing.
- Aarts, E., & Encarnacoã, J. (eds.) (2006). True visions: The emergence of ambient intelligence. Berlin: Springer.
- Abowd, G., & Mynatte, E. (2000). Charting past, present, and future research in ubiquitous computing. ACM Transactions on Computer–Human Interaction, 7(1), 29–58.
- Denning, P. (ed.) (2002). The invisible future: The seamless integration of technology in everyday life. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- European Union (2000). Presidency conclusions. Council of the European Union, March 23–24, 2000, Lisbon. At www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/ec/00100-r1.en0.htm, accessed August 1, 2007.
- ISTAG (2001). Scenarios for ambient intelligence in 2010 (eds. K. Ducatel, M. Bogdanowicz, F. Scapolo, J. Leijten, & J.-C. Burgelman). IPTS-ISTAG, EC: Luxembourg.
- Punie, Y. (2005). The future of ambient intelligence in Europe: The need for more everyday life. Communications and Strategies, 57(1st quarter), 141–165.
- Riva, G., Vatalaro, F., Davide, F., & Alcañiz, M. (eds.) (2005). Ambient intelligence: The evolution of technology, communication and cognition towards the future of human–computer interaction. Amsterdam: IOS Press.
- Weiser, M. (1991). The computer for the 21st century. Scientific American, 265(3), 94–104.