Ubicomp – The Third Era of Computing

Ubicomp – The Third Era of Computing

Ubiquitous computing, popularly known as ubicomp [1] is the concept of infusing computers into the common objects used by people in their day-to-day lives. The term Ubiquitous Computing was coined in the year 1988 by Mark D. Weiser, a chief scientist at Xerox PARC, USA. Mark Weiser is hence considered the father of ubiquitous computing, and he along with his colleagues at Xerox PARC began building “calm technology…, a concept in which the device or machine will inform and will not demand any attention or focus of the user” [2]. Ubicomp merges the benefit of computers with the commonly used objects in such a way that even not very tech-savvy persons might comfortably operate it while being quite unaware of its very presence.

Since World War II, the evolution of computers has seen many phases that could be broadly classified under 3 eras, namely tabulating era, programmable era, and the cognitive computing era [3]. Also known as Pervasive Computing, ubicomp enables the objects used in the course of daily routines to acquire the faculty of cognition by computerizing them with sensors and processors. Ubiquitous computing thus lays the basis for cognitive computing and, hence, is also addressed as the third era of computing [2].

Ubiquitous computing is the fundamental factor that is used to network an assortment of devices through the internet and make them function in a productive harmony called the Internet of Things. People often confuse ubicomp with IoT, but “Ubiquitous Computing could be in stand-alone devices/objects whereas IoTs are two or more such devices connected together for working in unison”. Experts explain that “Ubiquitous computing is all about having computational capability in many different (perhaps all) objects in our environment. Things like Stoves, Fridges, TV, Cars etc., all having some computational power. The Internet of Things (IoT) is about having these objects in our environment all connected to an internet”. [4]

Though the primary intention of devising Ubicomp was to enable devices to interact with its users, over almost 3 decades, the technology has attained phenomenal dimensions through its integration with technologies like the internet, “context-aware computing, adaptive systems, profile management, and recommender systems” [5]. It has also laid the foundation for the present third era of computing through its “application in a diverse range of knowledge areas, such as energy, healthcare, military, commerce, entertainment, learning, logistics, accessibility, and games” [5]. Profound examples [6& 7] for the futuristic application of this Pervasive Computing are:

  • NEST
  • Apple Watch or Fitbit
  • Smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Google Assistant or Apple HomePod
  • Smart Bulbs
  • Smart Locks
  • Self-driving cars
  • Electronic Toll Systems
  • Smart Traffic Lights
  • Home automation systems
  • Home security systems like motion-sensors for the remote monitoring of properties

Further, there is also a wide range of devices that are compatible with ubiquitous computing, the immediately appealing example being Smartphones [6].

But, the towering potentials of Ubicomp are tarnished by a stark drawback, the question of privacy. Privacy is “the most often-cited criticism …, and maybe the greatest barrier to its long-term success [1]. To alleviate this threat, experts strongly feel that the “devices need to be secured in such a way that they should be able to handle security threats, identify preferences and still be able to transfer data in real-time”. Despite the overshadowing concerns over privacy, researchers in the field of Ubiquitous Computing feel that the “security can be improved gradually”, as the “belief that Ubicomp will improve human efficiency” [2] will automatically ensure prioritization of establishing fool-proof security protocols.

A concept conceived before 30 years, Ubicomp has consistently been edified through the years and is now shimmering as the foundation for many present-day technologies and the threshold for innumerable futuristic technological breakthroughs. Due acknowledgment should also be given to the technology for being the saving grace that is propelling almost all the remote activities during this lockdown that the entire world is enduring due to the Covid19 pandemic. The strongly rooted technical prowess of Ubicomp and the exuding positivity and promising progress of its researchers keep the world looking up to the technology for better benefits, yet hoping that it remains in safe hands that work for the wellbeing and enrichment of humanity.