Ubiquitous Computing

Ubiquitous Computing

1. Introduction to Ubiquitous Computing

The beginning of this vision will be utilized at Xerox PARC, where the first tablet PC and a range of sensor-equipped devices will be developed. Although this strategy is to a far more limited target than we imagine, it sets the start for a new era in computing. Weiser provides a five-step guide to demonstrate its evolution.

Using the principles of pervasive computing, we can achieve these ‘smart devices’ to work unobtrusively interconnected as a whole to enhance the user’s experience. The main goal is to refine these devices so they are capable of effectively anticipating users’ needs and providing these requirements in a flawless and unobtrusive way.

The significance of the title says it all. Mark Weiser looked to a future beyond desktop computing, which he termed ‘Ubiquitous Computing’. What that means is to make information processing possible anytime and everywhere: in the home, office, or car, using any type of information appliance. A user interacts with the computer, which can exist in many different forms, including laptop computers, tablets, TV sets, and mobile phones.

2. Applications of Ubiquitous Computing

In the realm of safety, this kind of computationally aware space can be utilized to help independent living by elderly people who suffer medical conditions that could make them vulnerable when alone. Information on position and health status can be monitored remotely by medical staff. If it is known that the person is in trouble, for example, a fall and they do not immediately respond to a voice call, emergency services could be contacted automatically with the precise location of the person.

Smart gadgets for consumer electronics are a likely starting point for many users of ubiquitous computing, with a blackboard on the fridge checking availability of food and generating a shopping list. Widespread automation of home control systems could be an application that saves great amounts of energy and provides convenience through networking various appliances and lights to a home server, which can be conveniently controlled through a mobile device.

Applications of ubiquitous computing or pervasive computing are too numerous to mention because they cover a wide range of activities incorporating computers into everyday tasks and often even integrating them. In a very loose sense, the web itself is a ubiquitous application in that it is used in everyday tasks from reading newspapers to technical support. The data reported in section 1 about the prevalence of processing power and radio bandwidth can be projected onto computer applications to predict what will be possible as wireless networks and portable computers become more prominent.

3. Challenges in Ubiquitous Computing

An example of TMI in an interactive system is the UNIX file .plan. Meant to be a way of leaving a note for someone who looks you up on the finger program, it has turned into a personal news service reflecting all of one’s daily activities. With the proliferation of networking would come network-wide information sharing and the ability to access data from anywhere at any time. This would turn the .plan into a microcosm of someone’s online presence. This problem of too much information leads to the need to manage and filter information. This is not an issue specific to ubiquitous computing, but the magnitude of the issue is greater when information is constantly flowing into the periphery of the user’s attention.

TMI’s point is that the user is not interested in interacting with these devices, but does so incidentally as a by-product of his real task. This glut of information might become an issue if the user were to go away and return, expecting the system to fill him in on what he missed. If every action is saved, the system would have to reconstruct an entire session if such a review is anticipated. This will mean still more information to be kept and managed.

Areas of concern in ubiquitous computing include the problems of too much information, context construction, privacy, and too many interruptions. “Too much information” may overload the user and waste time. The term was coined by Peter H. Lewis of The New York Times in an article discussing the use of intelligent agents – programs that help you help them, asking for and returning information in the background. Program in this scenario is interpreted loosely. For example, a printer could report on its own condition and paper use, a photocopier on who used it and when, or a lamp might indicate how often it had been turned on.

4. Future Trends in Ubiquitous Computing

The ultimate trends in ubiquitous computing are almost too far-reaching to comprehend, and it is clear that its effects will pitch society in an entirely new direction. It is also clear that the ability to control these effects so that they are beneficial to mankind will require a deep understanding of the complex interaction that occurs between technology and the many facets of human life.

A large number of issues involving the social and legal implications of ubiquitous computing are yet to be addressed. Firstly, the usual assumption in computer science that more functionality is better may be called into question when computers are pervasive and the fight is on to avoid information overload. An information-rich society is not necessarily a better one, and people may need to protect the sanctity of areas that are free from stimulus. The notions of privacy and the security of personal data in an age where information is transmitted and accessed from all locations and is closely tied to the identity of individuals are, of course, something that could fill a book in themselves.

Emerging technologies will help drive the future direction of ubiquitous computing. Some of the most promising are: Wireless networking is expected to become a standard feature of many computing devices, which will enable information transfer on an ad hoc basis. The very flexible networking applications possible will, in turn, encourage the development of many context-aware applications as the location at which data is accessed becomes a more dynamic attribute. Machine learning and intelligent systems will become more important as a mechanism to filter the vast amount of accessible data in a way that is personalized and useful to the individual. This may provide a shift away from the strong emphasis on the user as the center of the universe of their computational environment. Instead, the environment will aim to understand the user and act on their behalf. Technologies to enable developers to program in a more abstract and less device-centric manner will be increasingly important. The benefits will be even more rapid application development and greater application portability across the diversity of ubiquitous devices. Devices such as RFID tags, which provide a very low-cost method of marking the presence of an object, will become more widespread and actively used in the development of context-aware applications. This may include applications in which everyday objects are able to automatically remind users of their intended use. Biological and chemical computing is an, as yet, largely untapped area in ubiquitous computing, which has the potential for some far-reaching effects. For example, autonomous devices that can operate inside the human body to monitor health or deliver drugs in a precise and controlled manner could be the ultimate form of pervasive computing.

5. Conclusion

It is difficult to predict how this technology will eventually be situated in our lives because the trajectory of its development is far from constant. As we have seen from a historical context, a multitude of factors can force a radical change in the direction of technology. Uptake of new technology is largely driven by economics and there may be various obstacles that prevent ubicomp from reaching its full potential. Today’s economic climate favors short-term gains over long-term investments and it may not be feasible for many companies to strive for the vision of truly invisible, seamless computing. That said, some of the more visionary goals might be temporarily sidelined, but it is likely that the general trajectory of progress toward ubicomp will continue. This carries with it a need for constant reassessment of the social and ethical implications as the technology takes shape.

The primary criticism of this new wave of technology is that it puts our privacy at risk. It has been shown that most users are not particularly concerned about their privacy, and that they are happy to reveal personal data in return for some kind of reward. That said, the possibility for invasion of privacy has stirred up much concern about the future of ubicomp. This suggests that the problem is not with the technology itself, but rather with the degree of control that the user has over it. If the user can confidently manage the ways in which their personal information is used, then the trade-off between data and reward may be more acceptable.

This essay has examined the variety of implications that ubiquitous computing will have on the future. The increasing miniaturization of computing devices will result in many devices being embedded into the environment. The resulting interconnectedness will mean that information is constantly, and unobtrusively, available and many of the devices will become context aware, adapting their behavior to the pattern of the user. This is the shift from modern-day computers, which are tools for the user, to a technology that will provide a comprehensive support environment for the user. These changes are being introduced now, and more will follow.

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