What Is Ambient Computing? How Does It Affect Our Lives?

What Is Ambient Computing? How Does It Affect Our Lives?

Your devices are going to become invisible in the future! Here are some companies that are making it possible.

Picture this: it’s five degrees Celsius outside, and you are freezing, but instead of you adjusting your thermostat, your house automatically realizes that it needs to be warmed up and changes the temperature accordingly. That is what ambient computing is all about. Ambient computing (also called ambient intelligence) refers to technology immersed into your environment. You don’t have to consciously interact with it using screens or keyboards. 

For those in the know about tech, this might sound a lot like the Internet of Things (IoT), and that is because these concepts are directly related. IoT consists of all the things connected to the internet, that is, smart devices. So, smart watches, smart Bluetooth speakers etc. are all a part of IoT. Ambient computing is what happens when these smart devices interact with each other. To help make the concept of ambient computing easier to understand, here is a look at some startups working in this space and the tech they are creating. 

What classifies as ambient computing

Before we discuss startups in the ambient computing space, it is important to know whether a product/service comes under the category of ambient computing or not. To do so, it must be invisible, in that the tech should blend into the background and not call attention to itself. It should be easy to operate for the average person and be readily embedded into everyday objects to enhance their functionality. 

All ambient technologies may not meet these criteria, but they have some or the other characteristics mentioned above. The three companies we list below meet the criteria of invisibility, increased functionality and simplicity of use. 

Eleos Health

Eleos Health is a mental health-focused startup trying to bring ambient intelligence to the health sector. The company has created an artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant tool called Eleos that runs in the background of a therapy session and gives the health professional insights into the sessions. Doing so helps the mental health professional track the outcome and progress of therapy sessions. As of 2022, more than 6.5 million minutes of treatment details have been recorded by Eleos. 

AppZen

AppZen is a U.S.-based startup that operates in the financial services sector. It uses AI to automate the process of auditing expenses. AppZen’s AI is capable of tracking employee expenses and comparing them to various data points to check whether the expenses align with company policy. The company self-reports that it is used by a third of Fortune 500 companies. It has successfully been able to raise US$102.59 million in funding as of 2022. 

Vocalytics 

Vocalytics is a voice analytics company that has created an AI tool capable of analyzing human voices and sounds. The tool has a wide range of functionalities. It helps healthcare professionals monitor triggers, such as coughing, so they can provide timely care to their patients. It can also be used in ensuring high-quality customer service. The AI can understand customer sentiment and how actively the customer service associate is engaging with them, thereby improving overall business performance. 

The issues with ambient computing 

While the unique product offerings of these companies might have convinced you of the benefits of ambient computing, there are some privacy concerns associated with this technology. All AI is meant to learn from people’s behavior and adapt to their needs and preferences. But the data collected in this process may not always be used with the user’s best interests in mind. 

For instance, there have been ample discussions about how Amazon’s voice assistant speaker, Echo Dot, eavesdrops on people’s private conversations. According to a report from researchers at the University of Washington, Alexa (the AI voice assistant technology powering the Echo Dot) collects data from user interactions and sends it to around 41 advertising partners

To overcome the privacy challenges associated with ambient technology, users must be given more control over their ambient devices. This means providing camera shutters, a manual shutdown point for microphones and the ability to get rid of the user data a device might store. 

Despite privacy concerns, technology will continue to become more immersive over the years. We are gradually seeing more and more smart devices on the market, so much so that one of the best inventions of 2022 was a smart showerhead. By 2028, global ambient intelligence is expected to be worth US$225.35 billion, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 32.9%. Hopefully, this growth will be accompanied by efforts to address privacy concerns within this space. 

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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