Beyond AI: ambient intelligence for an attentive environment

Ahead of the opening of the Orange Research Exhibition on 2 April 2019, Nicolas Demassieux, Research Director at Orange, shares his vision of Ambient Intelligence, which will profoundly transform our relationship with the objects around us and with our environment in a broader sense.

Ambient Intelligence, a profound revolution like that of the Internet 30 years ago, could change our relationship with the world and with objects.

Artificial Intelligence is on everybody’s lips nowadays, and is such a part of our everyday lives that we are sometimes unaware of its presence and the part it plays. Its potential is already significant, but it is far from fully utilised. Used in the right way, Artificial Intelligence could be an immense factor for economic and societal progress. The powerful tools of Artificial Intelligence (machine learning, deep learning, etc.) amplify the digital transformation. These tools transform raw data into usable knowledge more efficiently. They replace the explicit programming of software by human developers with machine learning from a large data set. They make it possible to interact more naturally through vocal interfaces.

An alignment of technological planets

Not only is its future already being written, it is being written consistently and in synergy with other technological transformations. The age of ubiquitous computing, which was preceded by the ages of the central computer and the personal computer, is a game-changer. We are surrounded all the time by devices with the capacity to calculate and communicate: smartphones, cars, dishwashers, remote controls and more. In this way, more and more devices are taking on a little extra intelligence as well as benefiting from the ambient connectivity provided by our networks, soon to be amplified by the deployment of 5G. This trend will expand in the coming years in ways that are practically unimaginable to us now, highlighting the omnipresence of information technologies that are being incorporated into all the objects around us to create, little by little, a more intelligent and capable environment. The convergence of these worlds, Artificial Intelligence, ambient connectivity and the IoT, will bring about the emergence of this Ambient Intelligence: a kind of Artificial Intelligence 2.0, soft but all-encompassing, sensitive and with the capacity to create a responsive universe for its users that is attentive to their presence and needs.

For smart surroundings

Make no mistake, this revolution is a profound one, like the Internet revolution 30 years ago, and it could change our relationship with the world and with objects. It could even go as far as upending some of the concepts inherited from philosophical tradition, such as Aristotle’s distinction between animate and inanimate objects which characterised inanimate objects as devoid of any ability to perceive and act and, in particular, to transform themselves on their own initiative. This new ability is now being granted to objects by machine learning technologies.

By transforming our ways of thinking and our interactions with what is around us, this ambient intelligence opens up unprecedented new perspectives. It can give us a better understanding of ourselves, particularly when it comes to its applications for healthcare, by detecting signs that could be early warnings of diseases. It can provide us with a better analysis of our planet, in terms of major societal and environmental challenges such as climate change, for example by putting Ambient Intelligence at the disposal of soft mobility or frugal and circular economy. Finally, it can help us to anticipate probable futures thanks to the optimisation of Big Data and Smart Data techniques – the development of predictive maintenance in particular comes to mind, among other implementations.

These are just some of the expected benefits of the increasing capabilities of Ambient Intelligence: it is, in short, a fantastic vehicle for improving and simplifying everyday life for everybody.

Orange’s conviction and its role

Ambient Intelligence is already a reality, but it is not necessarily or systematically “connected”. Its foundations have been laid and new technological building blocks will soon be added to solidify them – led by 5G, which will make it possible to connect together, in places where this is necessary until one million objects per square kilometre! Scaled to the size of a city like Paris (100 km², two million inhabitants but also… 200,000 trees or 350,000 light sources), that means around fifty connected objects and sensors per inhabitant.
5G ensures that environmental sensors are energy efficient, only activate when strictly necessary and can act locally when possible. This makes it possible to “connect” inhabitants, trees or urban equipment in order, for example, to better manage resources.

The Ambient Intelligence of tomorrow will therefore take on a new dimension.
We are convinced that this transformation provides opportunities and possibilities, but we are also aware that it brings with it new challenges. Seen through the prism of our Human Inside philosophy, Ambient Intelligence needs to exist to serve humans, society and the planet. It must be used within a reasonable framework. This means a framework that takes into account the fundamental requirements for protecting personal data and respecting private life and safety, and is marked out by rigorous ethical considerations.

Because we are experts in the different aspects of Ambient Intelligence, we are at the cutting edge of this revolution when it comes to developing its technologies and considering how to use them responsibly. By capitalising on our research expertise in AI and linking it to the IoT world thanks to Orange’s connectivity know-how, we have been building Ambient Intelligence for many years now and we continue to shape it every day. Our three research platforms, Home’in, Thing’in and Plug’in, are working on each of these aspects.

Orange assumes this role as a pioneer of Ambient Intelligence with resolution and responsibility, in connection with its ecosystem and in line with the aforementioned principles.

The intelligence of the 21st century will be ambient or not at all.

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