Ambient Computing: convenient, but do we need to be concerned? We certainly need to understand what it is.

Ambient, pervasive, and ubiquitous computing have been seen as the key to a future where people in an almost effortless way can do incredible things by means of technology they do not perceive.Ambient computing is currently a field in strong development with many applications. It is about moving computing capabilities to constantly and seamlessly adapt configurations of technology to changing situations and needs. Key issues in ambient computing include: • Invisibility, e.g. that computing is embedded in other everyday objects • Construction, e.g. that new possibilities can be obtained by putting existing components together. • Heterogeneity, e.g. that components should function in many fundamentally different contexts and configurations. • Change, e.g. reflecting that the needs and the technologies are changing continuously. • Scalability, e.g. that solutions that work with few users and in a limited context, should also work in almost unlimited contexts. However, as articulated on the site for the Workshop in Ambient Computing in Aarhus Denmark, from a critical perspective this vision of ambient computing is problematic because it leaves the users without control and because the focus most often is on efficient and smart gadgets as such. Only in very few cases is the focus of ambient computing on systems supporting people in understanding what is going on at the level they choose, and supporting them in suggesting courses of action rather than acting automatically. There seems to be a need for a balanced view emphasizing how ambient systems need to be visible, how they can be deconstructed, how coherence can be achieved, how they can provide stability and understandability, and in particular how users can stay in control when dealing with a huge number of autonomous components. Furthermore, there is room for both deeper and broader perspectives on the consequences of ambient computing technologies. How can such technologies enhance the quality of life, in work settings, in the home, in healthcare, etc? Do ambient technologies generate specific social, psychological or cultural challenges that we have to be concerned with? Which new theoretical, conceptual, analytical, or empirical perspectives do ambient technologies create a call/need for? Do researchers in ambient computing have a specific social responsibility? Whereas some of the established critical perspectives, e.g. in participatory design, have been caught or absorbed in the mainstream and thereby lost their critical edge, ambient computing may be the new battleground for a revitalized critical agenda. We need to think about that.