The goal is to reduce the friction involved in utilizing tech, making it easier for users to take full advantage of technology without having to worry about keyboards and screens. Instead of having to directly interact with different computing devices to get desired results – for example, using your phone to make a phone call and your remote to turn on a TV–  ambient computing allows all of your devices to work together seamlessly to fulfill your needs.  “In a multi-device world, people don’t want to spend their life fussing with technology. An ambient approach gets the tech out of your way so you can live your life while getting the help you need,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s SVP of Devices and Services, said during Google’s I/O 2022 keynote. “It doesn’t matter what device you’re using, what context you’re in, whether you’re talking, typing, or tapping. The technology in your life works together seamlessly.”  “IoT forms a base for ambient computing, with ambient computing more focused on how devices and intelligent services interact with users,” Jason Low, principal analyst at the research firm Canalys, tells ZDNET. In other words, ambient computing focuses on the interaction between these devices once they are connected. For example, a lightbulb that connects to an app is an IoT device; however, how the lightbulb gathers data from its surroundings about your preferences and acts accordingly is where ambient computing comes in. “The Internet of Things lives through sensors and actuators embedded in devices interacting with the world physically and functionally. Ambient computing contains this communication at the core and harnesses the environment for business processes and insights,” is how consultants Deloitte explain it.  To blend into the environment more seamlessly, smart speakers often feature minimalist designs, colors and sizes. Instead of having to pick up the device and direct it to do something, you can just talk out loud to your surroundings to accomplish a task.  The scope of what these voice assistants do continues to grow. Originally, these voice assistants didn’t go far beyond the scope of answering a question about the weather or playing a song. Now these devices can do as much as clean your house, turn on the lights and order items to your door. “There are three jigsaw pieces in ambient computing: a sensor that is a trigger, there’s a stream of data, and a CPU that can process that data,” says Royston Seaward, NSE Marketing & Commerce Leader at Deloitte.  In addition to voice assistants, ambient computing uses all aspects of modern-day technology, including artificial intelligence, sensors, connectivity, cloud computing and more. There doesn’t need to be a focus on any obvious gadgets at all - the computing power might be in the cloud and invisible at the point of use. What differentiates ambient computing isn’t the hardware itself, but rather how the technology is programmed and used.  To mitigate the problem of having employees in different places, many workplaces have developed conference rooms that have a sound system which picks up voices from across the room for Zoom calls and allows for smart casting of virtual meetings on a big screen. These office spaces are a great example of how ambient computing is implemented because both the smart casting tech and sound system live in the conference room at all times, cannot be seen and facilitate an everyday activity.  “A driving force behind ambient intelligence is Alexa’s AI, and it powers everything we build. The orchestration of dozens of sophisticated machine learning systems within Alexa makes it one of the most complex and advanced AI applications in the world,” says Sharma.  “Our long-term goal is to build technology that makes our customers’ lives easier behind-the-scenes so they can focus on what matters most to them. Like asking Alexa to ’turn on the lights’— it’s intuitive and easy to use. Customers young and old don’t need a manual to figure it out,” says Sharma. Although that’s not a danger of today’s smart home technology, many are still hesitant to implement artificial intelligence into their everyday tasks – especially given the privacy risks. When devices are using artificial intelligence to tune into and learn your behavior to better assist you, what happens with that data is a valid concern.   “Security and privacy issues are the top challenges we see within ambient computing and smart assistant technologies,” says Low at research firm Canalys. “The privacy issue is usually about how user information is collected and used to train and provide AI services”.   That’s particularly the case when you are introducing devices into the home and allowing them to record and analyse your highly personal habits. That means securing the devices and the data becomes an absolutely top priority. “A highly connected ecosystem formed by multiple devices with multiple points of connectivity would need more robust security to ensure devices are well secured and protected. The related apps and cloud services also must be protected,” says Low.  Despite this concern, experts think that as a society, we are moving towards a direction in which ambient computing is more widely accepted and these concerns begin to fade. The determining factor will be how businesses go about implementing this technology.   “I think that public trust will depend a lot on the ability of those businesses that receiving all this data in handling it with a degree of integrity,” says Seaward.  Besides building trust in data and privacy security, it is important for companies to build trust amongst consumers on whether these devices can reliably do what they are intended to do.  As voice assistants continue to expand their functions, they become responsible for tasks of greater importance to a person’s life, whether that’s locking your front door or ordering groceries. In order to let a voice assistant take up such an important roles, there must be a level of trust between the consumer and the device based on reliability. Until that level of trust is set in place, consumer hesitancy will prevent ambient computing benefits to be entirely maximized.  “As customers begin to rely on ambient systems, we do see them engaging more deeply, and across more aspects of their lives. This comes with an expectation that these systems become steadily better as they are used, and we work hard to live up to that,” says Sharma. “Technology and connectivity will be even more pervasive in the future. That means we won’t be confined to our smartphones, laptops, and the usual touch-point devices for computing needs. Platform vendors must design ecosystems with highly interoperable operating systems and services to push forward the ambient computing shift,” says Low. The key to harnessing the power of ambient computing lies in the power of the data.  “The business that is able to abstract and consolidate that data in and then add value to that data are going to create new revenue streams for them and add more value to their customers,” says Seaward.  In the future, ambient computing may expand further than just the smart home.  “There’ll be sectors like transport and energy that are being smarter. Whether it be a smart city, or a smarter power grid or a smarter water supply, people are more likely to see an evolution within their cities,” says Seaward. “So I think you’re going to see that for most places, smart cities really mean slightly better, more efficient power, slightly better, more efficient transport slightly better, more efficient, pervasive connectivity.”