Ambient intelligence

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An (expected) evolution of computing from 1960-2010 Evolution computer 1960-2010-fr.jpg
An (expected) evolution of computing from 1960–2010

In computing, ambient intelligence (AmI) refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people. Ambient intelligence is a vision on the future of consumer electronics, telecommunications and computing that was originally developed in the late 1990s by Eli Zelkha and his team at Palo Alto Ventures for the time frame 2010–2020. [1] [2] [3] [4] In an ambient intelligence world, devices work in concert to support people in carrying out their everyday life activities, tasks and rituals in an easy, natural way using information and intelligence that is hidden in the network connecting these devices (for example: The Internet of Things). As these devices grow smaller, more connected and more integrated into our environment, the technology disappears into our surroundings until only the user interface remains perceivable by users.

Computing Activity that uses computers

Computing is any activity that uses computers to manage, process, and communicate information. It includes development of both hardware and software. Computing is a critical, integral component of modern industrial technology. Major computing disciplines include computer engineering, software engineering, computer science, information systems, and information technology.

Futures studies study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures

Futures studies, also called futurology, is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. In general, it can be considered as a branch of the social sciences and parallel to the field of history. Futures studies seeks to understand what is likely to continue and what could plausibly change. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends.

Consumer electronics Electronic products for everyday use

Consumer electronics or home electronics are electronic equipments intended for everyday use, typically in private homes. Consumer electronics include devices used for entertainment, communications, and home-office activities. In British English, they are often called brown goods by producers and sellers, to distinguish them from "white goods" which are meant for housekeeping tasks, such as washing machines and refrigerators, although nowadays, these would be considered brown goods, some of these being connected to the Internet. In the 2010s, this distinction is not always present in large big box consumer electronics stores, which sell both entertainment, communication, and home office devices and kitchen appliances such as refrigerators.


The ambient intelligence paradigm builds upon pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, profiling, context awareness, and human-centric computer interaction design, of which, is characterized by systems and technologies that are: [5]

Ubiquitous computing is a concept in software engineering and computer science where computing is made to appear anytime and everywhere. In contrast to desktop computing, ubiquitous computing can occur using any device, in any location, and in any format. A user interacts with the computer, which can exist in many different forms, including laptop computers, tablets and terminals in everyday objects such as a refrigerator or a pair of glasses. The underlying technologies to support ubiquitous computing include Internet, advanced middleware, operating system, mobile code, sensors, microprocessors, new I/O and user interfaces, computer networks, mobile protocols, location and positioning, and new materials.

In information science, profiling refers to the process of construction and application of user profiles generated by computerized data analysis.

Context awareness is a property of mobile devices that is defined complementarity to location awareness. Whereas location may determine how certain processes around a contributing device operate, context may be applied more flexibly with mobile users, especially with users of smart phones. Context awareness originated as a term from ubiquitous computing or as so-called pervasive computing which sought to deal with linking changes in the environment with computer systems, which are otherwise static. The term has also been applied to business theory in relation to contextual application design and business process management issues.

Embedded system computer system with a dedicated function within a larger mechanical or electrical system

An embedded system is a controller with a dedicated function within a larger mechanical or electrical system, often with real-time computing constraints. It is embedded as part of a complete device often including hardware and mechanical parts. Embedded systems control many devices in common use today. Ninety-eight percent of all microprocessors manufactured are used in embedded systems.

Personalization consists of tailoring a service or a product to accommodate specific individuals, sometimes tied to groups or segments of individuals. A wide variety of organizations use personalization to improve customer satisfaction, digital sales conversion, marketing results, branding, and improved website metrics as well as for advertising. Personalization is a key element in social media and recommender systems.

Adaptive behavior refers to behavior that enables a person to get along in his or her environment with greatest success and least conflict with others. This is a term used in the areas of psychology and special education. Adaptive behavior relates to every day skills or tasks that the average person is able to complete, similar to the term life skills.

A typical context of ambient intelligence environment is home, but may also be extended to work spaces (offices, coworking), public spaces (based on technologies such as smart street lights), and hospital environments. [6]

Workspace is a term used in various branches of engineering and economic development.

Public space Place generally open and accessible to people

A public space is a place that is generally open and accessible to people. Roads, public squares, parks and beaches are typically considered public space. To a limited extent, government buildings which are open to the public, such as public libraries are public spaces, although they tend to have restricted areas and greater limits upon use. Although not considered public space, privately owned buildings or property visible from sidewalks and public thoroughfares may affect the public visual landscape, for example, by outdoor advertising. Recently, the concept of Shared space has been advanced to enhance the experience of pedestrians in public space jointly used by automobiles and other vehicles.

Intelligent street lighting refers to public street lighting that adapts to movement by pedestrians, cyclists and cars. Intelligent street lighting, also referred to as adaptive street lighting, dims when no activity is detected, but brightens when movement is detected. This type of lighting is different from traditional, stationary illumination, or dimmable street lighting that dims at pre-determined times.


More and more people make decisions based on the effect their actions will have on their own inner, mental world.[ vague ] This experience-driven way of acting is a change from the past when people were primarily concerned about the use value of products and services,[ dubious ] and is the basis for the experience economy. Ambient intelligence addresses this shift in existential view by emphasizing people and user experience.

The interest in user experience also grew in importance in the late 1990s because of the overload of products and services in the information society that were difficult to understand and hard to use. An urge emerged to design things from a user's point of view. Ambient intelligence is influenced by user-centered design where the user is placed in the center of the design activity and asked to give feedback through specific user evaluations and tests to improve the design or even co-create the design with the designer (participatory design) or with other users (end-user development).

User-centered design (UCD) or user-driven development (UDD) is a framework of processes in which usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks and workflow of a product, service or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. User-centered design can be characterized as a multi-stage problem-solving process that not only requires designers to analyze and envision the way users are likely to consume a product, but also to validate their assumptions with regard to the user behavior in real world tests. These tests are conducted with/without actual users during each stage of the process from requirements, pre-production models and post production, completing a circle of proof back to and ensuring that "development proceeds with the user as the center of focus." Such testing is necessary as it is often very difficult for the designers of a product to understand intuitively what a first-time user of their design experiences, and what each user's learning curve may look like. User-centered design is common in the design industry and when used is considered to lead to increased product usefulness and usability.

User experience evaluation (UXE) or user experience assessment (UXA) refers to a collection of methods, skills and tools utilized to uncover how a person perceives a system before, during and after interacting with it. It is non-trivial to assess user experience since user experience is subjective, context-dependent and dynamic over time. For a UXA study to be successful, the researcher has to select the right dimensions, constructs, and methods and target the research for the specific area of interest such as game, transportation, mobile, etc.

Participatory design is an approach to design attempting to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to help ensure the result meets their needs and is usable. Participatory design is an approach which is focused on processes and procedures of design and is not a design style. The term is used in a variety of fields e.g. software design, urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, product design, sustainability, graphic design, planning, and even medicine as a way of creating environments that are more responsive and appropriate to their inhabitants' and users' cultural, emotional, spiritual and practical needs. It is one approach to placemaking.

In order for AmI to become a reality a number of key technologies are required:

History and invention

In 1998, the board of management of Philips commissioned a series of presentations and internal workshops, organized by Eli Zelkha and Brian Epstein of Palo Alto Ventures (who, with Simon Birrell, coined the term 'ambient intelligence') to investigate different scenarios that would transform the high-volume consumer electronic industry from the current "fragmented with features" world into a world in 2020 where user-friendly devices support ubiquitous information, communication and entertainment. [7] While developing the ambient intelligence concept, Palo Alto Ventures created the keynote address for Roel Pieper of Philips for the Digital Living Room Conference, 1998. [8] The group included Eli Zelkha, Brian Epstein, Simon Birrell, Doug Randall, and Clark Dodsworth. In the years after, these developments grew more mature. In 2005, Philips joined the Oxygen alliance, an international consortium of industrial partners within the context of the MIT Oxygen project, [9] aimed at developing technology for the computer of the 21st century. In 2000, plans were made to construct a feasibility and usability facility dedicated to ambient intelligence. This HomeLab officially opened on 24 April 2002.

Along with the development of the vision at Philips, a number of parallel initiatives started to explore ambient intelligence in more detail. Following the advice of the Information Society and Technology Advisory Group (ISTAG), the European Commission used the vision for the launch of their sixth framework (FP6) in Information, Society and Technology (IST), with a subsidiary budget of 3.7 billion euros. The European Commission played a crucial role in the further development of the AmI vision. As a result of many initiatives the AmI vision gained traction. During the past few years several major initiatives have been started. Fraunhofer Society started several activities in a variety of domains including multimedia, microsystems design and augmented spaces. MIT started an ambient intelligence research group at their Media Lab. [10] Several more research projects started in a variety of countries such as the US, Canada, Spain, France and the Netherlands. Since 2004, the European Symposium on Ambient Intelligence (EUSAI) and many other conferences have been held that address special topics in AmI.


As far as dissemination of information on personal presence is out of control, ambient intelligence vision is subject of criticism (e.g. David Wright, Serge Gutwirth, Michael Friedewald et al., Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence, Springer, Dordrecht, 2008). Any immersive, personalized, context-aware and anticipatory characteristics brings up societal, political and cultural concerns about the loss of privacy. The example scenario above shows both the positive and negative possibilities offered by ambient intelligence. Applications of ambient intelligence do not necessarily have to reduce privacy in order to work. [11] [12] [13]

Power concentration in large organizations, a fragmented, decreasingly private society and hyperreal environments where the virtual is indistinguishable from the real are the main topics of critics. [14] Several research groups and communities are investigating the socioeconomic, political and cultural aspects of ambient intelligence. New thinking on AmI distances itself therefore from some of the original characteristics such as adaptive and anticipatory behaviour and emphasizes empowerment and participation to place control in the hands of people instead of organizations.[ citation needed ]

Social and political aspects

The ISTAG advisory group suggests that the following characteristics will permit the societal acceptance of ambient intelligence.

AmI should...

Business models

The ISTAG group acknowledges the following entry points to AmI business landscape:


A variety of technologies can be used to enable Ambient intelligence environments such as ( Gasson & Warwick 2007 ):


This means of computing links all pieces of technology together. This also allows the device to have the capability to remember past requests. [15]

Uses in fiction

Research groups

Several research groups have been founded to tackle the question of the manifestations of ambient intelligence—what can be done and what will the actions most probably result in:

See also

Related Research Articles

A smart device is an electronic device, generally connected to other devices or networks via different wireless protocols such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, NFC, Wi-Fi, LiFi, 3G, etc., that can operate to some extent interactively and autonomously. Several notable types of smart devices are smartphones, smart cars, smart thermostats, smart doorbells, smart locks, smart refrigerators, phablets and tablets, smartwatches, smart bands, smart key chains, smart speakers and others. The term can also refer to a device that exhibits some properties of ubiquitous computing, including—although not necessarily—artificial intelligence.

Human-centered computing (HCC) studies the design, development, and deployment of mixed-initiative human-computer systems. It is emerged from the convergence of multiple disciplines that are concerned both with understanding human beings and with the design of computational artifacts. Human-centered computing is closely related to human-computer interaction and information science. Human-centered computing is usually concerned with systems and practices of technology use while human-computer interaction is more focused on ergonomics and the usability of computing artifacts and information science is focused on practices surrounding the collection, manipulation, and use of information.

Calm technology or Calm design is a type of information technology where the interaction between the technology and its user is designed to occur in the user's periphery rather than constantly at the center of attention. Information from the technology smoothly shifts to the user's attention when needed but otherwise stays calmly in the user's periphery. Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown describe calm technology as "that which informs but doesn't demand our focus or attention."

Smart environments link computers and other smart devices to everyday settings and tasks. Smart environments include smart homes, smart cities and smart manufacturing.

Intelligent Environments (IE) are spaces with embedded systems and information and communication technologies creating interactive spaces that bring computation into the physical world and enhance occupants experiences. "Intelligent environments are spaces in which computation is seamlessly used to enhance ordinary activity. One of the driving forces behind the emerging interest in highly interactive environments is to make computers not only genuine user-friendly but also essentially invisible to the user".

Ubiquitous robot is a term used in an analogous way to ubiquitous computing. Software useful for "integrating robotic technologies with technologies from the fields of ubiquitous and pervasive computing, sensor networks, and ambient intelligence".

Anind Dey Canadian academic

Anind Dey is a computer scientist. He is the Dean of the University of Washington Information School. Dey is formerly the director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. His research interests lie at the intersection of human–computer interaction and ubiquitous computing, focusing on how to make novel technologies more usable and useful. In particular, he builds tools that make it easier to build useful ubiquitous computing applications and supporting end users in controlling their ubiquitous computing systems.

Activity recognition aims to recognize the actions and goals of one or more agents from a series of observations on the agents' actions and the environmental conditions. Since the 1980s, this research field has captured the attention of several computer science communities due to its strength in providing personalized support for many different applications and its connection to many different fields of study such as medicine, human-computer interaction, or sociology.

AmbieSense was a large European project funded by the Information Society Technologies, Fifth Framework Programme of the European Commission. A company has been formed of the same name and has contributed to initiatives such as the open source Webinos project.

A smart object is an object that enhances the interaction with not only people but also with other smart objects. Also known as smart connected products or smart connected things (SCoT), they are products, assets and other things embedded with processors, sensors, software and connectivity that allow data to be exchanged between the product and its environment, manufacturer, operator/user, and other products and systems. Connectivity also enables some capabilities of the product to exist outside the physical device, in what is known as the product cloud. The data collected from these products can be then analyzed to inform decision-making, enable operational efficiencies and continuously improve the performance of the product.

A living lab, or living laboratory, is a research concept, which may be defined as a user-centered, open-innovation ecosystem, often operating in a territorial context, integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership.

The Telecooperation Office (TECO) is a research group at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany. The research group is in the Institute of Telematics, and is attached to the Chair for Pervasive Computing Systems, currently held by Michael Beigl.

Pervasive informatics is the study of how information affects interactions with the built environments they occupy. The term and concept were initially introduced by Professor Kecheng Liu during a keynote speech at the SOLI 2008 international conference.

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Albrecht Schmidt is a computer scientist best known for his work in ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, and the tangible user interface. He is a professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich where he joined the faculty in 2017.

Eli Zelkha

Elias "Eli" Zelkha was an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist and professor. He was the inventor of ambient intelligence.

Simon Birrell is a British entrepreneur, technologist and film maker. He was part of the team that invented ambient intelligence and who, with Eli Zelkha, coined the term.

Joëlle Coutaz is a French computer scientist, specializing in human-computer interaction (HCI). Her career includes research in the fields of operating systems and HCI, as well as being a professor at the University of Grenoble. Coutaz is considered a pioneer in HCI in France, and in 2007, she was awarded membership to SIGCHI. She was also involved in organizing CHI conferences and was a member on the editorial board of ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. She has authored over 130 publications, including two books, in the domain of human-computer interaction.


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Sources and further reading