A technology where a user casually interacts with many small computers that are part of the "woodwork" around a person. In particular, Mark Weiser's research at Xerox PARC into pads, tabs and boards.

Antonym: Virtual Reality.

AKA Ambient intelligence, ubicomp, pervasive computing, and everyware.


Ubiquitous computing refers to the probability that in the not-too-distant future computers will be everywhere. The idea is based in the observation that microprocessors are vying with paper for the role of low-cost leader, and soon it will be a toss-up whether it is cheaper for a manufacturer to include the instruction sheet on paper or a miniature computer. Once this point is reached, it will be a short step to integrating every aspect of our life with our home computer -- or, if we don't watch out, simply being integrated with an open server on the internet.

This trend is not just supported by cheap microprocessors, of course. Effective voice recognition software, omnipresent wi-fi, touchscreens, cheaper and larger flat screens, and exploding computer literacy and market penetration will also contribute.

We have a lot of this sort of thing going on already -- we have bits of computers in out phones, TVs, microwaves, cars, musical birthday cards, alarm clocks, and pacemakers. While an increase of computing power and an increase in the number and type of objects having these sorts of technologies are driving forces, the most important factor will be interconnectivity.

For example, every food package can have a chip that monitors usage and the amount remaining in the box, building a shopping list that can be sent automatically to your house server, which can then send the order to the grocery warehouse. Your food will collaborate to suggest recipes that fit the ingredients you have on hand, modified by optional Weight-Watchers or other specialist diet apps. You may get a 'coupon' if you let your food communicate to the producer's server, or if you allow the products to advertise serving suggestions and related products. You can 'like' specialized products to let producers know exactly how much of a nation-wide market there is for artificial-coloring-free orange soda or vegan haggis -- all with the same amount of effort you currently spend on a drunken Tweet.

Clothes can be manufactured with chips that communicate with the washer (and the aforementioned Weight-Watchers app), and the washer can automatically adjust to the appropriate wash setting, or alert you if you have a red sock in with your whites. If you allow it, your local retailer would love access to your virtual wardrobe in order to better make suggestions for further purchases.

Cars, of course, will be able to take your voice command, plot a route, drive themselves, and call in a reservation or buy tickets on the way. And tip the valet... or alternatively, record the oaf that scratched your door, and send in a claim to the insurance company.

There are some new objects that may appear as well. Some hypothetical near-future technologies include:

Tabs, a type of wearable computer, are small computers worn as badges or tucked into a wallet, which can be used as key cards, employee ID badges, access cards, electronic switches to log you into the nearest workstation ("personal" computers being redundant), automatic switches to turn on and off the lights as you move from room to room, and electronic 'beepers' so that co-workers can easily stay in contact... although they might block this function when they sense that you are in the bathroom. They could also exchange and log contact information with everyone you meet at a business meeting (or a convention), give you alerts, etc., etc., etc.

The idea of tabs is not a new one, and as technology advances without caring what the visionaries predict, it is apparent that tabs are actually an advanced form of what we currently call phones. Before we get ubiquitous computing, tabs have morphed fully into glasses.

Dust, AKA a microelectromechanical system is essentially mega-scale goo -- small devices, from 20 micrometers to one millimeter in size. Microscopic accelerometers can turn your entire body into a game controller, your finger into a paintbrush, or the air into a piano. Pressure monitors can measure your blood pressure and heart-rate, and act as a pedometer. And, of course, send data to your medical server, calls to 911, or daily calorie needs to your fridge. Dust may be built into, or printed into, Skin or Clay -- fabric and plastic hardware, which can used to make smart clothes, furniture, glasses, toilets... whatever we like.

Pads and boards are essentially tablet computers and flatscreens -- except that they are usually visualized as being something akin to public property. Your tab talks to whatever pad or board you happen to be holding or looking at, and they may be so common in any given household or workplace that it is hardly worth carrying them around with you. Eventually pads may fill the same environmental space as paper currently does, and boards the same space as wallpaper.


Of course, just as tabs are clearly going to be based on smartphones, and may soon evolve into glasses, any and all of this may turn out to be somewhat different than predicted by the futurists. But we are clearly headed for something like this, even if the future doesn't involve any near-magical scientific breakthroughs. The predictions of ubiquitous computing are comparatively milquetoast compared to the hopes of the biohacking and 3D printing (and 4D printing) crowds... and it's only upwards from there on out. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go network my cats.

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