Pervasive Computing: Connecting the Computing Environment to You

It’s no exaggeration to say pervasive or “ubiquitous” computing will soon transform our work environments

The travel office calls. They want to confirm your itinerary changes. Except you never told the travel office your itinerary needed to change. So how did they know?

Well, while you were stuck in a client meeting that ran an hour over time, the locator chip in your smartwatch observed that you hadn’t moved. This set off a series of digital events between your calendar, the airport and local traffic reports. In a matter of seconds, the technology you use on a regular basis determined it was statistically improbable you would make your flight and sent an email notification to the travel office.

Is this fantasy? Yes and no. It’s pervasive computing — the concept of machine-to-machine communication and seamless, data-driven processes that happen without our knowledge or manual input, but still affect and optimize our work environment. The scenario above isn’t reality just yet, but it likely will be soon.

A multitude of technologies

Through pervasive computing, intelligent networks comprised of a multitude of technologies will communicate with each other “behind the scenes,” driving efficiency by anticipating users’ wants and needs. Small, mundane tasks, such as scheduling a meeting or changing conference room lighting levels when the projector is activated, will be automated based on preset user preferences.

Pervasive computing utilizes most forms of technology, but has recently landed in the spotlight due to its link to the emerging “Internet of Things.” McKinsey & Company offers this definition of the Internet of Things: a world “where sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects — from roadways to pacemakers — are linked through wired and wireless networks.”

The Internet of Things is providing a means to create an atmosphere where pervasive computing can thrive.

A smart environment

A pervasive computing environment is a “smart environment.” For pervasive computing to send information seamlessly between the technology devices in your environment, the devices must be capable of receiving pervasive computing information and responding accordingly, by monitoring you, connecting with you, or, essentially, thinking for you.

For example, as you swipe your security card to open the door to a private meeting room you’ve booked for a teleconference, the communications equipment will automatically dial in for you. This would require ubiquitous software that connects the card reader, your organization’s user database, your calendar and the communications equipment together.

On the cusp of change

Pervasive computing is already emerging. Software like IFTTT, which allows users to create cause-and-effect connections across different mobile applications, combined with the latest Droid smartphone is a glimpse into the future of pervasive computing. However, while today you initiate devices to connect to the technology you need, the pervasive computing world of tomorrow will unobtrusively connect the computing environment to you — anytime and anywhere.

Pervasive computing, including the Internet of Things, has the potential to help organizations reach unprecedented levels of connectivity and productivity. And while it will also present major data security and privacy challenges — no doubt data security analysts will be in even higher demand in the coming years — it will also bring a new level of efficiency and cohesion to the workplace.

So what are your thoughts on pervasive computing? How do you expect it to transform the way you work, or your work-life balance, in the near future? Share your thoughts in the comments section.