A hand holding a smartphone and using an app to control wireless smart devices in a living room.
Loocid/Shutterstock.com

Ambient computing is one of Silicon Valley’s latest tech buzzwords. It refers to technologies that allow people to use a computer without realizing they’re doing it. We’ll explain more about it, and how it will impact our daily lives.

Computing You Can’t See

Over the last few years, technology companies have been pushing to deepen the integration of computing platforms with our daily lives. One of their goals is to assimilate computers into our surroundings to the point that we don’t notice we’re using them at all.

Referred to as “ambient computing,” these technologies perform computations for you without a direct command. As ambient means “in your environment,” these devices are intended to be so integrated into your surroundings that you’re no longer conscious of them. This is significantly different from smartphones and smartwatches that we have to actively check to use.

Most computing systems rely on active input from humans. For example, if you want to search for the movie schedule on your phone, you type the name of the movie and the cinema in the Google search box. If you want to make your home a little cooler, you can manually set your air conditioner to the desired temperature with a remote or mobile app.

The goal of ambient computing is to eliminate friction between you and the computer. Instead of actively setting or interacting with devices, you would interact with your surroundings, and the devices would respond to your actions. For example, with an ambient smart thermostat, the device judges the room and your interactions with it to adjust the temperature as needed.

Ambient computing uses a variety of technologies, including motion tracking, speech recognition, gestures, wearables, and artificial intelligence to achieve this goal.

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Ambient Computing Today

An Amazon Echo on a table.
Amazon

The smart speakers and personal voice assistants millions of people have in their homes are the most widespread example of ambient computing devices. We don’t actively engage with Alexa or Google Assistant in the way we do with our other devices.

For many people, asking a smart assistant to turn on the lights, read the day’s headlines, or play a song is a normal part of everyday life. Instead of speaking into something, you speak to your surroundings. This is why most smart speakers are understated and plain—you’re not supposed to notice them.

Many households also have light sensors that detect movement. As soon as someone walks into the home, the living room lights turn on.

You’ve likely heard of the “Internet of Things” (IoT). It refers to the network between objects that allows them to transfer data to one another. For example, if you have smart appliances, you can use a connected smartphone or voice assistant to turn them on and customize their settings. A smart refrigerator would be able to tell you at what temperature each compartment is, as well as the optimal place to store a specific food.

To seamlessly blend, different devices have to communicate with one another, and IoT makes that possible. Your smartphone connects to your lights, the light sensor connects to your alarm clock, and so on. Working with AI, these devices can pattern themselves based on your behavior.

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Ambient Computing in the Future

A man on a stage in front of a huge Samsung SmartThings Cloud backdrop.
Samsung

We’re likely headed to a future with even more ambient computing. Many devices can already tell what time you wake up. In the future, smart devices might be able to open your curtains and wake you with natural light instead of an alarm.

As soon as you walk in the living room, a room-sensor could detect your presence, and your speakers might start reading you the day’s news. These are examples of ambient computing, and it’s already around you in a variety of smart devices that blend computing into your environment.

Many hardware manufacturers are integrating ambient computing with both their marketing and design philosophy. Samsung, an industry leader in smart technology, refers to its smarthome operating system as “Project Ambience.”

Google has also been eager to enter the ambient computing space. The company is likely to expand its hardware line to include more devices that further complement its current array of integrated services.

Vann Vicente Vann Vicente
Vann Vicente has been a technology writer for four years, with a focus on explainers geared towards average consumers. He also works as a digital marketer for a regional e-commerce website. He's invested in internet culture, social media, and how people interact with the web.
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