Ambient Computing

A medley of pervasive networks and interoperable information technologies has produced a new state of persistent surveillance, connectivity, and analysis. No more sitting down at laptops or reaching for mobile devices.

We’ve entered the Age of Ambient Computing, a convergence of cheap sensors, wireless connectivity, increasingly powerful microchips, and advanced analytics that is redefining the nature of public and private spaces in the world’s developed economies.

The good news: ambient computing is largely hands-free and effortless, at least from the perspective of the average citizen. The bad news: it’s like the weather—good or bad, you can’t avoid it.

Ready or not, we’re surrounded by sensors that collect data and send it via networks to analytics that convert the data into information for a potpourri of end users ranging from corporate marketers to government security agencies.

Here are some hypothetical examples: you walk into a conference hall and a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon beams a short coded message announcing its proximity. Assuming that you have an app on your phone that can interpret and identify the beacon, you see a welcome message on your lock screen, along with directions to the room where a session you’ve signed up to attend is starting in five minutes. Your phone also displays information about when lunch will be served, and confirms your choice of the chicken, fish, or vegan entree.

That’s a fairly benign and innocuous case. Let’s ...

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