19 September 2022

Are we ready for intelligent buildings?

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Imagine you arrive at your workplace. The virtual assistant greets you, asking how you are doing. Arriving at your workplace, the temperature automatically changes to your comfort level. After a few hours of work, you start to get groggy, but suddenly your playlist becomes more energetic. The virtual assistant alerts you that you need to move for a while. It's all already possible, says lecturer and researcher Geert-Jan van Ouwendorp. But there is still a long way to go before ambient intelligence becomes commonplace. We talk about that during the first edition of Updates Available.

Ambient intelligence

Van Ouwendorp began working from the Interaction Design Professorship: "What you're talking about is a number of technologies that, based on your data, ensure that your environment can respond accordingly. That can be an office space, but also your home. The joke is that with ambient intelligent there is no interface, no interaction as we know it. Data, algorithms and machine learning function automatically but need a lot of data."

Privacy, autonomy and added value

Studio Superflux made a speculative video about this a few years back. An ambient intelligence system, somewhat reminiscent of Amazon or Google's systems, gets to know the user better and better and takes over tasks, but also makes choices on the user's behalf. Ouwendorp: "Systems can make decisions in our favor. The question is how do we want to deal with that; do we consider privacy more important than the added value of ambient intelligence? Think of an Apple watch that can sound an alarm if your vital signs show abnormalities. How much are we willing to hand over? But consider also that systems are already taking an awful lot from us. In the old days, you had to be able to program to use a computer. With the advent of Windows, computers became more accessible, but we also became dependent on systems. You have to think about that."

Implementation challenges
If we want to see what ambient intelligence can do, there are more than enough obstacles in front of us. Legislation and ethics are two of them, but also the linking of many systems, Van Ouwendorp argues, "The big question is; who oversees all that data and systems? Big tech companies already have a lot of data and that can be useful, but also scary. Who should be accountable when and to whom? That's a question we need to answer."

Building attention: empathetic building

Meanwhile, the possibilities of ambient intelligence can be tested in smaller ecosystems. Think of Eindhoven Smart Data City, but also within the Fontys ICT InnovationLab: "We are experimenting with ambient intelligence, for example from the Building Attention project. Here we are looking at ways in which we can use ambient intelligence to enhance the building experience and social interaction. We do this based on four pillars: information provision, personalization, humanization and infrastructure. In this, for example, we are looking at whether we can develop a virtual receptionist, but also whether AR can help to get more interaction between different student groups by unlocking information. How nice is it when you can start working together and exchange expertise because you just have that information? So if the building can play an active role in that, you get an empathetic building."

Ambient Intelligence is the theme of the first edition of knowledge event Updates Available on September 27, 2022 (16.00-18.00) at the Fontys ICT InnovationLab. Participation is free, for more information and to register look here. Ambient intelligence is also an important theme during ICT in Practice and Dutch Design Week for the Fontys ICT InnovationLab.

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