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Ambient Intelligence: from vision to reality
Average reader rating: 0  
by IST Advisory Group 35 Ambient Intelligence

For participation – in society & business
September 2003

Executive Summary

The present report is consultative. It has been prepared to stimulate comment from the IST community, so as to inform planning of the IST Priority Theme for the remainder of the 6th Framework Programme as well as planning of the 7th Framework Programme.

This Executive Summary highlights the most important aspects of current thinking in ISTAG. These are explained and amplified in the text, and further background and detail is given in a series of working group reports listed in the bibliography.

Ambient Intelligence – a stable yet evolving vision

Insofar as AmI [Ambient Intelligence] is “a set of properties of an environment that we are in the process of creating”, It is not necessary to more tightly define the term Ambient Intelligence. Most importantly, AmI remains a principal focus for ICT RTD. But it is important to appreciate that AmI remains an ‘emerging property’ and that future scenario building and iterations of the vision should treat AmI as an ‘imagined concept’ and not as a set of specified requirements.

AmI supports participation
While AmI should not be promoted as a panacea for social problems, it does represent a new paradigm for how people can work and live together. AmI enables and facilitates participation by the individual - in society, in a multiplicity of social and business communities, and in the administration and management of all aspects of their lives, from entertainment to governance. Radical social transformations are likely to result from the implementation of the AmI vision.

Business, too, will be transformed by the new forms of fluid, networked, business enabled by AmI. Value-chain relationships will change significantly and will affect every aspect of work processes. Employers, workers and trade organizations must be made aware of these potential changes, so they are able to respond to the new opportunities. Anticipated productivity gains will not materialise if the technology is superimposed on old organisational infrastructures and business practices.

It will be necessary to address both societal and business concerns and hard technological problems so as to provide the necessary trust and confidence in AmI. But neither ISTAG nor the IST research community should shrink from the exciting possibilities.

AmI must be conceived holistically

AmI will be realised through highly complex systems. It will no longer be sufficient to perform specific research, embody the results of that research in particular technology developments and products, and then seek to commercialise those products. The technical complexity of modern systems based on ICTs requires that all aspects of the innovation chain integrate their efforts. The concentration and coherence required to achieve both significant technological development and significant market impact requires engagement of both academic and industrial researchers, which is conditioned by business strategy, which is in turn conditioned by investment strategy. To be effective, all of the research and business community must keep pace with the rapid co-evolution of the technology, the market, and social and administrative requirements.

Research for integration

Pursuit of the AmI vision will require contributions from many streams of research to realise both ‘ambience’ and ‘intelligence’. But it is in the area of research to support integration that significant new avenues of research need to be opened. The development of the AmI space will depend not simply on finding solutions to the research challenges for ambience and intelligence, but on the extent to which mechanisms can be found to ensure the successful, seamless, integration of components and their convergence into AmI systems. Thus far, ISTAG has identified platform design, software and service architecture, design, engineering and integration, and ‘Experience Prototyping’ as critical research areas.

Open standards and interoperability
Consensus building to achieve open standards is a well-recognised asset of European ICT industry. The example of the GSM success illustrates this clearly. The danger is that as AmI evolves, proprietary systems become the only option for users and market dominance by non-European companies in fields such as operating systems expands to the emerging AmI fields. This would not only limit innovation: it would jeopardise the very concept of ‘seamlessness’ in the AmI environment, and weaken the position of European industry. ISTAG strongly supports the proactive establishment and support of forums to facilitate the early emergence of consensus, by bringing the appropriate actors together and helping the building of shared ambitions and goals across industry, academia and public authorities.

A ‘system level’ focus
The increasing complexity of the ICT systems necessary to realise the AmI vision affects not only the technical value chain but also the business and exploitation channels of ICT products and services. More than ever, research needs to be embedded as early as possible in a full value chain development in order to enable the mastery of an increasingly complex chain of technologies and business channels. The competitive edge is in the capacity to master the integration of technology building blocks into platforms or environments on which high value applications, products and services can be built. This is, in general, a weakness in European research that translates into gaps between technology and application. This gap needs to be filled with focussed research to integrate the building blocks as they become available.

Achieving more from available resources
AmI cannot be achieved piecemeal: it requires coherent application of resources Europe-wide. AmI also offers an opportunity for co-ordinating resources – which is generally accepted to be necessary to overcome the traditional fragmentation across the EU. In general, the necessarily limited resources available may be applied more effectively through greater coherence, co-ordination and concentration. All parts of the innovation supply chain from idea to market should be engaged, requiring effective ways of inter-working between industry and academia and between SME’s and larger organisations.

Finance: the role of public procurement
Public spending represents 15% of GDP in Europe in many fields where ICT can bring significant improvements. Yet public administrations seldom use their power as major purchasers to achieve a global impact: there have been missed opportunities for transforming ICT breakthroughs into business and societal successes. However, areas in which AmI can transform public services, such as eGovernment, eHealth, and eLearning, are now high on the political agenda. The time is opportune for Europe’s public sector to develop a critical mass of first users in such fields. This does not require additional public financing but redirecting of existing spending so as to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Governments make ideal ‘first buyers’. European governments should be at the forefront of ICT adoption - not only applying established technologies and solutions but actively encouraging innovation and facilitating the establishment of new markets.

Strategic ‘grand challenge’ initiatives
Closely related to the more effective deployment of public investments, ISTAG suggests the identification of large scale and visionary European-wide AmI initiatives that promote and advance European research and technology and capitalise on financial mechanisms such as public procurement. These should harness the concentrated expertise, knowledge and capabilities of European personnel in the pursuit of objectives that will benefit European society and industry. Such initiatives should be implemented in addition to, and in combination with research programmes. They would ensure a closer articulation between research and implementation actions and support the transfer of advanced technology into applications.

Co-ordination of RTD funding
Currently RTD funding is available from Member States and Regional Authorities, in addition to the funding available from the European Union, through a wide range of programmes. There should be clearer distribution of the roles of the various funding sources, and the rules governing public funding in Member states and at EU levels should be harmonised, so as to ensure compatibility and co-ordination between programmes and achieve an integrated portfolio of activities.

Achievement and assurance of excellent research
European research efforts should be concentrated to foster, demonstrate and exploit research excellence and give prominence to the high quality and internationally competitive research that is taking place in Europe. Experience has shown than in areas where such concentration of effort has been possible and such centres exist, as in microelectronics and micro-systems, Europe has been able to establish clear industrial leadership world-wide. The ‘Networks of Excellence’ introduced in the 6th Framework Programme are intended to reduce fragmentation and lead to permanent restructuring of the research base. ISTAG now suggests that consideration be given to additional ways to concentrate effort in a way which ensures the continued flexibility, responsiveness, and competitiveness of the RTD community.

Experience and Application Research Centres
ISTAG suggests that AmI research increasingly needs “to allow people to live in their own future” in order to bring that research closer to the needs of citizens and business. In support of this idea, ISTAG proposes the establishment of ‘Experience and Application Research Centres’ – for integrated research and concurrent assessment of AmI technologies and systems. Such facilities should enable prototyping of novel interaction concepts while resembling natural environments of use. These ‘experience prototyping’ centres should also be equipped with an observation infrastructure that can capture and analyse the behaviour of people that interact with the experience prototypes.

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