Ambient Computing Definition & Meaning

Ambient computing is a concept that refers to technologies that allow people to use a computer or internet enabled-device without consciously realizing it. It is not a technology and is purposefully vague. It is the combination of artificial intelligence, machine learning, user experience, and cognitive processing to create a digital environment to integrate technology into everyday life. It enhances usefulness and reduces demand for human attentiveness. 

Sometimes referred to as pervasive or ubiquitous computing, ambient computing is made to appear anytime and everywhere. It is the pairing of devices we use at home, work, and elsewhere that gathers information for us as soon as we need it, or possibly before, to respond to individual needs. 

Ambient computing is “invisible,” meaning the computing is taking place unnoticed behind the scenes. The term “ambient” refers to the immediate surroundings, and with ambient computing, the interface is transparent, intuitive, and requires little to no interaction.  

Ambient computing examples

At the most basic level, an example of an ambient device is in a motion control system. A sensor within a light’s motion system perceives human activity. When someone comes into the range of the light’s sensor, the light turns on. The light is being used without realizing it; it simply happens. While this exemplifies the concept, a motion system is not a computing device.

An example of ambient computing would be a smart speaker such as Amazon’s Echo Dot with Alexa. Users don’t have to actively engage with Alexa as they would with other devices like a computer or phone. They can ask the smart speaker to turn on the lights or for the weather forecast by speaking to their surroundings. The computing is unnoticed. 

Companies are looking to expand the ambient computing space by integrating it into their marketing and design philosophy. Both Samsung and Google are creating devices that support ambient computing. 

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