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September 13, 2012

Ubiquitous Computing, Imagining the Future

by Marina

Riding the subway one day on a way from work, I was imagining what the life would be like in a technology-driven world where every object around us would be as intelligent, as we are, and would look after our best interests.

I think we are already surrounded by so much technology, but for the most part, its a stupid technology. It needs humans to perform the tasks and it doesn’t question humans when they make mistakes. Your cell phone is useless, if you forget to recharge it. Your food will over-cook, if you set the wrong time in microwave by mistake.

But what if everything around us, every single object and every environment, was super smart and super intuitive to human needs?

UbicompWhat if all gadgets were connected and shared information to make suggestions for us or would prevent accidents, without any human involvement?

Scientists already envision a future in which microchips are embedded in nearly everything. Here is a cool video from 2008 by the ScienceChannel “Visions of the Future – Ubiquitous Computing” where they see that in the future intelligence will be everywhere and in every object, like our clothing, our walls, our furniture, seamlessly integrated into our daily life and connected to everything, yet invisible to the human eye.

Ubiquitous Computing (ubicomp) is a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities. In the course of ordinary activities, someone “using” ubiquitous computing engages many computational devices and systems simultaneously, and may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so… More formally, ubiquitous computing is defined as “machines that fit the human environment instead of forcing humans to enter theirs.” ~ Wikipedia

Ubiquitous Computing, sometimes also called Pervasive Computing, which “enables everyday objects to recognize our needs and react to them in an intelligent manner” is not something out of a science-fiction. “The requisite hardware is already available. What’s needed now is new software and global standards” – according to 2004 “Developing a Digital Aura” article on

“We already have a critical mass of devices and wireless networks. The next step is to make those devices aware of how humans work and to get them to adapt to their habits.” ~ Bo Begole, a ubicomp expert at Xerox PARC

Wearable Computing devices, like medical monitoring devices or those that allow people to track their fitness as they exercise, are becoming more and more popular now.

“Sooner rather than later you’ll have a computer attached to your face, and for some, it’ll happen as early as next year.” – says David J. Hill in his recent article 2013 — The Dawn Of Wearable Computing?

Ever heard of Google’s Project Glass? Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin was Spotted Wearing Project Glass in April of this year.

A dress that tweets, by Microsoft.

A dress that tweets, by Microsoft. Its made of paper and was stitched together completely by hand. A custom keyboard, which resembles and old school typewriter allows the wearer to send her 140-character message, which is then displayed on the dress through a projector.

There is also a lot of discussions around Human ID Chips, like VeriChip or VeriMed, a first FDA-approved injectable identification chip that can be inserted under the skin of a human being to provide biometric verification – means by which a person can be uniquely identified by evaluating one or more distinguishing biological traits. Human ID Chips are about the size of a grain of rice. They can be programmed to open doors, switch on lights, pay for purchases and to log you on to your computer.

But the most valuable functions of Microchip Implants are probably those that could potentially save your life, as they can provide doctors at a time of a crises with your medical history, list of your medications, allergies, and your contact information.

Imagining the Future

"Live the life you have imagined" Handmade card

I am not a morning person and I hate when my sleep is interrupted by the sound of an alarm. So I was thinking – wouldn’t that be nice if you’d wake up every morning at the time when your clock calculated the best time for you to wake up.

It would monitor your sleep and know exactly when the optimal time for you to wake up on Monday morning, given your age, your medical history and your sleep patterns, without making you late for that Monday meeting. You’d wake up rested and ready for the busy week ahead of you. (Yes, I’ve heard of the Sleep Cycle alarm clock)

The wall color would now be adjusted to a brighter shade and you’d hear some upbeat music in the room.

You leave washroom at the time when your toothbrush and your toilet are sending urine and saliva tests to your family doctor, as part of the routine medical evaluation. Why waste valuable health information, if it could be used for early detection and prevention of deceases?

As you open your closet, certain items in your closet would light up, suggesting you should wear a jacket and bring an umbrella with you, as it’s suppose to be a cold and rainy day today.

You dress and go to the kitchen to have a quick breakfast. Your coffee and your cereal are ready, just as you enter the kitchen. Everything is timed perfectly. You also see a sign on the water bottle saying that your doctor recommends you start taking iron supplements & multivitamins, as your last tests indicated that you are low on those.

As you eat your cereal, you notice a message on the fridge letting you know that you need milk and bread and that the order has been placed already, though you now have to make a choice to A) pick it up at the same time you pickup your dry-cleaning on Wednesday (It saves you money) or B) it can be delivered tonight, if you can’t wait till Wednesday (It saves you time).

You choose to ignore that message letting the fridge to make that decision for you. You don’t even need to press any buttons. You simply need to think about your preferred choice or react to a message in some way, like frown. That would be enough of an input for your fridge to calculate a proper outcome – dismiss the message and settle on an option B.

You grab your purse and look for the shoes. Suddenly, a few pairs start to glow in the corner.

In-Context Recommendations are part of your everyday life in this Smart Space. You don’t have to search for information anymore. Your surrounding environment and all objects around you constantly do calculations and predictions for you, based on your past choices and your satisfaction with them, as well as current weather conditions, your mood and your state of mind, the latest research into human behavior etc. All objects become useful beyond their intended use.

For a second, you think of your elderly parents and feel good knowing that they can’t leave their house without a wallet or without taking their medication on time, as their house monitors that 24×7. Outside their home, their watch, their jewelry or their clothing do this job.

Your attention is now brought to a countdown on the front door, informing you that the elevator is arriving on your floor in 12 seconds. You rush out the door.

At the elevator you bump into your neighbor, an old friend. You haven’t seen each other for a while. She says that she is fine, but you hear a message in your headphones, interrupting your music, that your friend’s skin analyses suggest that she hasn’t slept in a while and that her speech exhibits signs of distress. You are very busy, but you decide to take a few extra minutes to find out how your friend is doing and learn that she is going through some difficult times.

As two of you are making plans to go for drinks on Thursday night, both of your Calendars are already communicating with each other trying to find best time for both of you to meet, checking your favorite restaurants’ availability and creating a list of potential options, ranking each one against various criteria, like proximity to home and work, specials on that day, food preferences for both of you etc.

When you get home from work that day, your apartment is transformed again to create a relaxing atmosphere for you with dimmed lights, calming wall colors, candles and a slow music playing on the background, just as you like it at this time of a day.

You don’t even notice it, but there is a fresh milk and bread in your fridge…

You live in a world that doesn’t have traffic jams, accidental deaths or lies, as they are easily detectable, so nobody bothers to lie anymore (Imagine how it would change Politics or News Broadcasting! Lol). You never do duplicate work, make same mistakes twice, forget appointments, have a need to keep receipts or make uninformed decisions. Those concepts simply don’t exist anymore.

This is what I’ve imagined, as an ideal life with computers in it. What’s yours?

Good Reading

Photo Credits:
Ubicomp image by, Handmade Card from, Dress that tweets photo courtesy of Microsoft.

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