Is Ambient Computing Driving the Extinction of Hardware Devices in the Future?

Blurring the line between digital AI and devices with integrated decision-making that boosts human productivity

Simon Lockington
Is Ambient Computing Driving the Extinction of Hardware Devices in the Future?

The 21st century has been the focal timeline to usher in a new era of hardware and software synergy. Digital devices are increasingly ingrained into holistic ecosystems, becoming an essential part of our lives and changing the way we do business. Organizations embarking on digital transformation must leverage reliable networks as a key metric to deliver seamless digital experiences for people, devices, applications, and processes. With a growing focus on interconnectivity between devices in an ecosystem, IT is increasingly merging into operational technology (OT) and interest in connected, smart devices are surging. As such, exponential Internet of Things (IoT) spending in Asia-Pacific is forecasted to reach $436 billion by 2026, with anticipation for greater investment and the potential to transform sectors across all industries.[1]

This has given rise to NoOps “no operations” automation throughout the region. Organizations and government bodies are fully embracing the digitalization of their services to automate and create flexibility in their infrastructure. But what happens when we take this concept further? Can we broaden its use and make it more intelligent and relevant to end consumers? Ambient computing aims to address this.

What is ambient computing?

Ambient computing is a broad concept to describe an environment of smart devices coupled with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data and human activity working together to deliver an outcome without human intervention or command. The concept involves moving away from static, pre-defined workflows, control scripts and operating procedures.[2] Instead, it focuses on enabling computer actions alongside everyday life that is invisible, in sync and symbiotic. In other words, it aims to weave technology into the fabric of daily life until they are indistinguishable from it.[3]

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Ambient computing works through a backdrop of sensors where devices can collect data externally to trigger actions through sound and sight.[4] Based on these inputs, AI can make decisions without human involvement, eliminating decision friction.

For example, Apple has been gradually implementing ambient computing into its device ecosystem, with a crash-detection feature that activates when a high-speed incident is detected. An array of sensors, including a high dynamic range gyroscope, accelerometer, microphone, barometer and GPS in the iPhone and Apple Watch backed by advanced motion algorithms, work together to accurately detect a crash, and then automatically call emergency services without any physical inputs from the user.

Other applications include vending machines that automatically push notifications to vendors for restocking low inventory items, thermostats changing temperatures based on learned preferences from the user, escalators entering power-saving mode when no passengers are detected and many more. These sustainable adjustments make for a simpler and smarter way to live.

How does this change the data landscape?

The rise of digitized front office infrastructure for localized and personalized delivery to customers, employees and operations greatly impact the commercial and environmental landscape. Findings from the Global Interconnection Index (GXI) 2023 report detail the importance of digital proximity and the requirements of digital infrastructure to be close to and interconnected with, experiences, IoT and intelligent operations. IT becomes fully integrated with OT to balance transparency, efficiency and sustainability with greater mobility, security and control.

For seamless ambient computing, hardware and software must be intertwined through a digital environment that is stable, connected and uninterrupted. Edge computing is responsive and “always on”, allowing smart devices to operate accordingly. Organizations recognize the importance of this. In Asia-Pacific, edge deployments are accelerating four times faster than digital core. We anticipate that by 2028, the global infrastructure edge footprint will be 40 gigawatts, with 63% supporting healthcare, manufacturing, energy, retail and transportation.[5]

The beneficial impact of ambient computing

It’s estimated that the adoption rate for ambient computing in the Asia-Pacific retail industry will rise to 54% as organizations strive to further customize the retail shopping experience.[6] As ambient computing works on tasks in the background, consumers experience increasingly streamlined interactions with technology. This reduces the number of manual and repetitive human inputs—saving time and effort—while delivering a uniquely tailored experience. However, the concept could generate a huge amount of data, giving rise to storage and latency requirements to deliver against expectations. Therefore, retailers who wish to implement ambient computing should bolster their digital ecosystems, such as deploying on Platform Equinix® to unlock proven, on-demand and stable connectivity to thousands of clouds, networks and digital supply partners.

Business operations can also be streamlined through ambient computing. Going a step further than automation, tasks can be done with no human intervention or control. For example, sensors in industrial equipment can monitor the functionality and automatically schedule maintenance, or sensors can detect when products are low in stock and automatically order a new shipment. This is without the need for personnel to check on equipment or stock. In theory, the intelligence gathered by sensors will also signal the quantity or volume of stock, or which servicing center to call for repairs. Organizations save on time, cost and manpower by relying on sensors to transfer vital operational information. These sensors would need to operate on advanced digital infrastructure to be successful, such as on Network Edge, allowing organizations to seamlessly integrate network services and privately route between apps, data and workload.

Precautionary security steps can be taken to tackle emerging cybersecurity threats when ambient computing strategies move from simply signal detection to actuation–where devices are now relying on AI to automatically make decisions and take actions on behalf of the organization. A hybrid solution exists to mitigate these risks where cloud networks are both accessible privately through physical metal infrastructure like Equinix MetalTM, while simultaneously made available publicly on multicloud infrastructure deployed virtually. This dual approach minimizes security risks, private data breaches and unauthorized actions while providing flexibility for collaboration.

A future of invisible, silent computing?

Ambient computing continues to mature and progress into a phase that demands further seamlessness and integration. This silent transition is purposefully made to cause minimal disruption while allowing for incremental quality-of-life improvements.

Tech giants like Amazon, Google and Samsung are accelerating their development of ambient computing for IoT behind the scenes, recognizing the rising consumer demand for devices that simplify access to software and real-time life enhancements.[7] Devices like Google Nest and Amazon Echo connect to cloud networks and the Internet to bring services and applications to life.

The automobile industry is also pushing for further developments in the field of self-driving and discovering new ways for drivers and vehicles to interact with one another. Self-driving vehicles at their current stages are not in and of themselves, IoT solutions. Rather, they are self-contained, autonomous driver replacements. Once these vehicles begin communicating and exchanging data captured from sensors with each other, the implications will be profound. This would expand capabilities beyond just taxicab drivers or commuters, but for logistics and freight transport as well.

What’s next for ambient computing?

The next phase of IoT will be dependent on further developments in ambient computing capabilities. Devices will not disappear, but user behavior and interactions will shift further into the background, becoming increasingly intuitive. Organizations must move quickly to create innovation through collaboration with others to build prototypes, expand revenue-generating capabilities and establish new benchmarks.

Reach out to us today to learn more about how your organization can leverage digital infrastructure to harness new opportunities and further explore ambient computing advantages.








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