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05 July 2007

The Future: Ubiquitous Computing

Computing, over the past 50+ years, has gone through two distinct phases: the mainframe era and the personal computing era. The third phase has begun and you may have not even noticed – that is the way it is supposed to be. Ubiquitous means existing or being everywhere at the same time, i.e. constantly encountered. Ubiquitous computing, or “ubicomp”, as it has been tagged will define the future of computing.
The distinguishing feature of ubicomp will be the lack of interface. Everything will be controlled by natural actions as opposed to the point-and-click interfaces we have all grown used to.

Right now we receive information in two distinct ways: pull or push. “Pull” can be characterized by a user sitting down at a computer, firing up Google, and searching for specific information in real-time. “Push” is characterized by receiving filtered information based on user preferences; much like the personalized text messages on your cell phone informing you of weather or traffic conditions.

When computing becomes ubiquitous you will not need to manually set preferences. The object you interact with will learn from you and provide information based on your environment. Temperature, time of day, movement, sound, color and light will all influence the information you receive. Ubiquitous computing will provide a continuous stream of information without being distracting and will only provide the information you need at the time.

Everything will become interactive and more importantly, reactive.

Imagine the following scenarios:
  1. You make a call to your friend whose native language is French. He understands English quite well but prefers to speak in French. No problem. In real-time what you say comes across on his end in French and vice-versa.
  2. You need to setup a meeting with a group of business partners who all have busy schedules. No problem, their automated calendars work together to find a good time for all of you to meet.
  3. You are rushed to the hospital after a car accident. By performing a retinal scan the ER doctors are provided with time-sensitive and important information: allergies, past surgeries, existing conditions, emergency contact information, name and age. (Ubiquitous computing will probably prevent most accidents before they happen.)
  4. You have lost your keys. No more searching, just ask your house. It will know EXACTLY where they are, even if they are hiding in the couch cushions. (Keys will probably be a thing of the past at this point.)

It is difficult to comprehend all that ubiquitous computing will entail. I look at it this way: Everything, and I mean everything, will be connected. A communication device of some type will be embedded in every single product created. This prospect is scary for some, exciting for others.

To see where we might be headed, make sure you check out these pages with more illustrative images:
This post was written by Jeremy Miller from Jemmille. He frequently writes about interesting technologies and cultural curiosities. If you are interested in contributing to the thinking process and become a guest writer on The Thinking Blog, find out more information here and be my guest!

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