ERCIM News No.47, October 2001 [contents]

Ambient Intelligence

by Jari Ahola

Defined by the EC Information Scociety Technologies Advisory Group in a vision of the Information Society, Ambient Intelligence emphasises on greater user-friendliness, more efficient services support, user-empowerment, and support for human interactions. In this vision, people will be surrounded by intelligent and intuitive interfaces embedded in everyday objects around us and an environment recognising and responding to the presence of individuals in an invisible way by year 2010.

Since the 1999 IST Programme Advisory Group (ISTAG) vision statement for Framework Programme 5 challenging to create an Ambient Intelligence (AmI) landscape for seamless delivery of services and applications in Europe, it rapidly became widely embedded in the work programme for years 2000-2001. AmI is also recognised as one of the key concepts related to Information Society in the Framework Programme 6 and as we can see from the multitude of articles in this issue, ERCIM members are already well on this track. For a more detailed intro, our first contact with AmI is envisioned in a report by ISTAG (ISTAG. Scenarios for Ambient Intelligence in 2010. Final Report, Feb 2001, EC 2001. Available at: http://www.cordis.lu/ ist/istag.htm) using a set of scenarios depicting different potential futures with four fictitious users.

Ambient Intelligence builds on three recent key technologies: Ubiquitous Computing, Ubiquitous Communication and Intelligent User Interfaces – some of these concepts are barely a decade old and this reflects on the focus of current implementations of AmI (more on this later on). Ubiquitous Computing means integration of microprocessors into everyday objects like furniture, clothing, white goods, toys, even paint. Ubiquitous Communication enables these objects to communicate with each other and the user by means of ad-hoc and wireless networking. An Intelligent User Interface enables the inhabitants of the AmI environment to control and interact with the environment in a natural (voice, gestures) and personalised way (preferences, context).

Making AmI real is no easy task: as it commonly takes place with a new technology, soon after high-flying visions we are demonstrated with the first pieces of hardware for the intelligent environment. However, making a door knob able to compute and communicate does not make it intelligent: the key (and challenge) to really adding wit to the environment lies in the way how the system learns and keeps up to date with the needs of the user by itself. A thinking machine, you might conclude – not quite but close: if you rely on the intelligent environment you expect it to operate correctly every time without tedious training or updates and management. You might be willing to do it once but not constantly even in the case of frequent changes of objects, inhabitants or preferences in the environment. A learning machine, I'll say.

The following articles in this special theme issue showcase the various aspects of AmI research in Europe. In addition to background information on AmI related activities within the ERCIM members we have a number of articles on the infrastructure for AmI environments followed with algorithms adding some of the intelligence required to reach our goal for 2010.

ISTAG; Scenarios for Ambient Intelligence in 2010; Final Report, Feb 2001, EC 2001:

Please contact:
Jari Ahola - VTT Information Technology
E-mail: jari.ahola@vtt.fi