The “Invisible” Context-aware Technology is Here to Stay

Date:   Wednesday , November 23, 2011

First came mainframes, shared by lots of people, followed by the personal computing era, and now, comes the age of calm technology--when technology recedes into the background of our lives.

As Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC and the father of Ubiquitous Computing put it, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it”. The success of GPS, iPod, iPad and the likes is a living testimony to Mr.Weiser’s vision.

In this age of connected world, context-aware computing is easily the next big thing. Context-aware computing, can refer to anything, from your device (MobilePhone, PC, etc...) knowing where you are, or sensing what you're doing and adjusting its behavior accordingly, or making recommendations based on that information.

Context-awareness can make personal mobile devices more responsive to individual needs, help to proactively anticipate user’s situation, and intelligently deliver personalized information through real-world applications and services; using sensor inputs, data analytics, social networks and delivery context.

In a way, it leverages the progress made thus far in the areas of location & sensory technologies, networking, business intelligence, data-mining, and applies social and behavioral sciences, to help people see more of what they need, suppress the “noise”, and discover hidden relationships between people, information, and events.

As with any new technology in our connected world, the convenience-benefits of context-awareness also pose the challenge of protecting individual privacy needs, underscoring the need to uniformly preserve the anonymity of users, through cryptographic analytic techniques.

By 2015 40 percent of mobile users will have opted in to context service providers, that track their activities, and $96 billion of spending worldwide (out of a total of $9 trillion) will be affected by contextual data, Gartner predicts.

As the mobile population gets used to the technological bells and whistles of the apps they download and use; and are constantly updating what they are doing through social networking sites; their smartphones already know a lot about them.

By combining the geolocation, already standard in most mobilephones, with data from sources (the microphone, the camera, the gyro, and more), phones could figure out a lot more about the user. For instance, gyro data could tell whether you are taking an evening stroll or driving. Judging by time, noise levels, and even things like breathing, your phone could know whether you are asleep or awake. Context-enriched apps thus, help phones connect with users on an emotional level, sensing moods and feelings, and reacting accordingly.

By logging this data, your phone could learn a lot about your routine: your commutes, places you frequent in real and virtual worlds, like your coffee-shop or the shopping websites, news you like to read/listen on your mobile device, or the purchases you frequently make. By learning how you live, it could then offer you advice, read your news apps while you are on your morning bus commute, or perhaps even notify you when there are deals on your favorite items ( Yes, it knows !)

Mood-sensing phones are purely a concept for now, but Intel’s Rattner has suggested publicly, that context-aware computing will begin to emerge in Intel products in the “not-too-distant future.”

Networked with a phone that already knows where you have been, what news you have already heard about, and how you are feeling; soon your TV could know if you’re in the mood for a Sports Program or a quiet night catching up on your favorite soothing music.

Soon, the use of face & gesture recognition, may take the place of a password, to log in to any protected site, and your friends, family, and co-workers will all play a role in determining how your daily activities unfold. Your Virtual Assistant apps will identify ways to use the proximity of people, important in your life, to adjust communications and to help coordinate activities.

In this age of excessive and often redundant communication, the problem of sifting through thousands of messages to find the pieces that matter has remained a challenge; even for the tech-savvy. Context-aware apps that are designed to solve this challenge, by analyzing user-behavior patterns, email, text and other messages, can organize and present data in the way people naturally think: by relevance to what user is doing, place, time, topic, people, organization, and their connections to each other, whether on the road, at home, or in the office.

Mobile contextual intelligence, allows to automatically detect significant events in the environment (noise, crowds), and tag them with contextual meta-data such as users’ motion and activities (walking, running, lying down). On-device analytics can warn elderly while crossing the roads and alert care-givers and family, should there be a fall or medical need.

The “invisible” context-aware technology is here to stay.
The author is CEO, Openstream