For a good while, you’d rarely find a computer without an Intel CPU. But with the rise of GPU-centric processing in blockchain and AI, as well as ARM’s dominance in mobile computing, Intel has struggled greatly to keep up in recent years. With a renewed necessity to innovate, Intel’s announced a variety of strange ideas over the past few years. The latest addition—an ambient PC prototype—lands somewhere in the valley between cool and creepy.
In a recent announcement, Intel showed off a handful of prototype devices at this year’s Computex event in Taipei that demonstrate its efforts in artificial intelligence, modular, and ambient computing. But what is ambient computing, exactly? The term refers to a more responsive breed of electronics that observe and react to the presence of people. These devices remain on at all times, always watching, with the goal of adapting to and serving our needs. Futurist and communications marketing executive Gary Grossman explains how this technology will ideally fit into our lives:
Ambient computing covers applications incorporating machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence and is characterized by human-like cognitive and behavioral capabilities and contextual awareness. It creates a digital environment in which companies integrate technology seamlessly and invisibly into everything around us, maximizing usefulness while minimizing demands on our attention.”
It’s not hard to consider the ways that ambient computing could pose a more significant threat to owners than current smart home technology when everything from lightbulbs to toilets have become targets in recent years. That said, let’s start with the positive aspects ambient computing can provide. Much like how our smartphones anticipate the apps we’ll search for or the tasks we wish to perform, ambient computing attempts to anticipate us by learning from how we use connected technologies in our homes.
Intel also hopes to increase usefulness and efficiency through this technology by introducing more “closed-lid” tasks that machines can perform to minimize the transition from sleeping states to waking states. Ambient devices can remain connected when not in use to download information users may want without delay, much like we’ve seen with Apple’s Power Nap feature introduced several years ago. Leveraging a local voice ID technology, presence sensors, and 180-360 degree cameras, Intel also expects ambient computing will improve the quality of video conferencing and provide more security while enabling “hands-free” conveniences.
While that all may sound nice in a perfect world, we live in a reality filled with many security exploits that have likely already affected you and people you know in some way. No matter how much we attempt to secure our own data, we cannot control or even anticipate the vulnerabilities many companies leave open. While Intel attempts to proactively address these issues—which is more than can be said for most companies—it’s had its issues in the past. With necessary Spectre and Meltdown patches hitting Intel processor performance the hardest, security and performance require a delicate balance that may prove difficult for a company in a hurry to compete.
Speculation aside, Intel continues to assert its commitment to user privacy specifically in regards to ambient computing, and unexpected security flaws will occur regardless of anyone’s best efforts. It’s not alone in developing ambient computing devices and the first exploit may target another company’s technology. In most cases, the potential flaws in the components produced by large microchip companies don’t represent the best target for malicious hackers. Connected technologies remain more vulnerable by nature. Each connection is a link in a chain of multiple products from different companies and it only takes one weak link to break it. Even with a perfect approach, Intel’s technology can only assert so much control over the other links in its chains. It will be important to keep these risks in mind as more intelligent, adaptive devices reach the consumer market.
Along with the ambient computing prototypes demoed at Computex, Intel announced an AI on PC development kit, in partnership with Asus and a NUC Compute Element that continues their efforts to modularize PC building. While ambient computing may feel like a technology surrounded by risk, these parallel announcements demonstrate Intel’s interest in making development more accessible. Today our purchases of smart home devices can feel like putting a black box of convenience in the home and leave us wondering if we’ve relinquished our privacy or put ourselves at other risks. In the future, however, the creation of ambient devices may become a more simple task with modular parts. When we have a hand in creating the technology ourselves, we can retain more control over our security and privacy.
Top image credit: Kari Shea/Unsplash