The Future of Machine Learning Is Anticipating What You Need

And it's called ambient intelligence

Key Takeaways

  • Ambient intelligence is machine learning where physical environments can be integrated with sensors and intelligent systems to adapt.
  • Amazon said the future of consumer technology is ambient intelligence, and experts agree that’s where we’re headed.
  • An ambient intelligent-based future could come in many forms of hyper-personalized awareness.
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Imagine a world where your devices anticipate what you want or need, sometimes before you even realize it. That’s the world of ambient intelligence, and experts say it’s where machine learning is headed. 

Ambient intelligence is getting a moment in the spotlight right now thanks to big tech companies like Amazon expressing its importance for future consumer technology uses. At its core, ambient intelligence is just machine learning, but deeper; a technology constantly anticipating and adapting to the environment around you.

"Ambient intelligence can enable an individual to become more effective and more efficient in their life," Clark Dodsworth, founder of Osage Consulting and co-author of the original ambient intelligence strategy, told Lifewire over the phone. 

Tech That Adapts to You

The concept of ambient intelligence has been around since 1998, but it’s very much becoming a reality in 2021. Recently, Tom Taylor, Amazon Alexa’s senior vice president, said "the future of consumer technology is ambient intelligence." 

"Ultimately this means that you’ll reach for your phone a little bit less and you’re talking to Alexa less," Taylor said during the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon this week. 

Smart house concept. Home automation.

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Right now, with Amazon Alexa or any smart home device, you have to utter a command for it to work. You must pause and consciously interrupt what you’re doing to use the technology. However, Pedro Domingos, a professor emeritus of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, said one of the best ways to describe ambient intelligence is as an invisible technology. 

"The limits of human intelligence are when you don't even notice [technology] anymore," Domingos said. "It’s just that your environment is more adaptive to you, and you don't even have to worry about making it adapt yourself."

Despite ambient intelligence being a conceptual idea for 23 years, the race to perfect it and implement it into our daily lives is on. Domingo said it comes down to which tech giant will come out on top first. 

"I think you're going to see even more action in this space since this is now a major focus of competition between [tech giants]," he said. "I can't predict who is going to come out on top of this, but somebody will."

An Ambient Intelligent Future 

The technology to integrate ambient intelligence into our daily lives is almost there, but experts say some things still need to happen to make our world ambient-intelligent. 

Domingos said the motivation and investment of tech companies to compete in the space are important factors. In addition, Dodsworth said that system designs must become more durable and, in particular, better able to secure personal data.

"Intent is so important when it comes to ambient intelligence," he said. "High data security requires constant vigilance 24/7. As individuals, we can’t risk the path of ambient intelligence without that."

He believes the safest and most secure uses of ambient intelligence technology won't be in smart home applications, but rather in "hyper-personalized, real-time, context awareness."

"[Wearable devices] could be gathering data about the patterns of where you are, who you're around, what you do, and your metabolic state that can start to provide value to you. That becomes not ambient intelligence installed around us in the world, but enhanced, portable awareness for you," he said. 

"This can lead to enhancing your personal resilience in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world."

"Ambient intelligence can enable an individual to become more effective and more efficient in their life."

Dodsworth also points to a future where awareness is shared among devices. For example, your phone’s awareness could be extended to several blocks away, warning you of safety situations.

"Let’s say that in real-time, nearby people's phones can communicate with yours through Bluetooth and other methods. Your phone and theirs have permission from you to share only certain kinds of data, such as limiting it to unusual or life-threatening situations," Dodsworth explained.

"So, if something life-threatening suddenly happens, like a sinkhole in the street a few blocks away, it would get out quickly to other devices in all directions, enhancing the situational awareness for you and other people you don't even know."

Although this may all sound high-tech and out of reach, Domingos said the end result of ambient intelligence is well worth it. 

"You're happier because you live in a world that makes you more comfortable without the hassle of having to do this all yourself," he said.

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