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Ambient Computing

A massive convergence of technologies will enable us to use computers and the internet without really using them.

Everybody’s talking about ambient computing. And there is so much to talk about.

But with all this chatter comes confusion. People disagree on what ambient computing is, how it works and what it’s for.

So let’s bring clarity to this muddled and confused concept.

Broad hardware computing platform descriptions have long ended with where the hardware rests when you’re using it — desktop, laptop, handheld, wearable.

Ambient means it’s “in the air” — the location of the device matters less. In fact, with ambient computing, the user doesn’t even have to know anything about the devices to use them.

Ambient computing is really the combination and evolution of voice and in-the-air gesture interfaces, speech recognition, the internet of things, cloud computing, wearable computing, the quantified self, augmented reality, haptics and, above all, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Yes, that sounds like a list of all the technologies. But what defines ambient computing is the effect on users.

What makes ambient computing ambient is that you don’t explicitly shift your activity or mindset to act as a “user.” It’s just there, guiding and nudging you along as you accomplish things in life.

Ambient computing devices will operate invisibly in the background. They’ll identify, monitor and listen to us and respond to our perceived needs and habits.

So a good working definition of ambient computing is “computing that happens in the background without the active participation of the user.”

Ambient computing is not a separate group of technologies, but instead any technologies that enable you to use computers and the internet without actively using them.

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