From Artificial to Ambient Intelligence

Summary of FWF Project ref. J3448-G15

“Ambient Intelligence” or “Intelligent Environments” are labels for computer-based technologies that, despite common origins, provide a striking contrast to the research programme of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Where classical AI sought to directly simulate human thought and action, aiming at some degree of human-likeness, Ambient Intelligence (AmI) systems are designed to simulate some key properties of human environments in real-time, adaptively and partly autonomously. They shall hence facilitate perception of those properties and offer novel opportunities for interaction. Where human thought was mostly conceived of as abstract, symbolic and disembodied in classical AI, AmI provides some evidence for recent views in cognitive science and philosophy of cognition as being an “embodied” activity that is “embedded” in perceivable environments and “extends” into them by means of artefacts.

Thus conceived, AmI technologies are in the business of tracking natural information for perception in human environments. In this study, two basic modes of selecting and presenting that information are distinguished: Firstly, there are artefacts that provide information concerning a set of conditions in a concrete environment that the user could, factually or hypothetically, also perceive when using natural cues. Such is the case for the majority of Augmented Reality technologies. An example are driver assistance systems that direct a motorist’s awareness to relevant conditions, including his or her own focus of attention, so as to initiate an appropriate reaction to a traffic situation (which is a solution beneath the level of the self-driving car). Secondly, there are artefacts that provide information on a virtual environment that is integrated with what the user perceives in his or her real environment. Such is the case for Mixed Reality technologies. An example are gaming applications that place interactive virtual objects in real environments, where these objects are part of the gaming environment while sometimes also involving properties of the real environment

Either way, it is concluded, environments are modified for the respective users in a certain way: if cognition is an embodied activity that is coupled with a perceivable environment, and if that environment is enriched with embedded artefacts that adaptively and partly autonomously provide information for human activities, such an environment presents itself as a seamless, smooth and cooperative surface for those activities. Without necessarily being perceived as having been artificially modified in a certain way, it will affect the choice and pursuit of human activities. The nature of such an environment may come to be perceived as a matter of course – until, that is, some interaction fails. To the extent that this peculiarity of intelligent environments gives rise to ethical issues, these will provide an instructive contrast to the question of the relation between human nature and machine simulation in classical AI.