Most of us are using computers, but also PDAs and cell phones. And this trend is accelerating in our increasingly networked wireless world. We might use hundreds of computing devices by the end of this decade. Still, we are slaves to our machines. With every new device, we have to learn new commands, languages or interfaces. The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI), a strategic alliance between the University of Cambridge in the UK and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S., has enough of it and wants to give back control to the users. So it launched its 'Pervasive Computing' initiative with the intention to tackle this challenge. In particular, the group wants to develop new technologies to make easier for us to interact with all these computers.
The Community will initially unite researchers at Cambridge University with their counterparts in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). CMI initially invested £ 800,000 in research projects in this field and is now investing an additional £2.2 million to start up the Community.
The Community started with a fairly simple constatation.
When computers first became available some forty years ago, they were rare and expensive resources that took up a whole room, and had to be shared by many users. But over the last two decades that has changed, with the shared computer replaced by the personal computer, which in turn has shrunk in size from desktop, to laptop, to palm-held devices including PDAs, mobile phones, and pagers etc.
This trend is likely to accelerate so rapidly, enhanced by wireless technology, that by the end of this decade, we can expect individuals to be using hundreds of computing devices every day for work, education and play – some of them mobile, many of them embedded in the environment around us.
There are still significant challenges to face before all these devices can improve our quality of life, such as designing better interfaces with these ever smaller computers.
So the CMI has decided to tackle these challenges and is running several projects such as improved security, more robust networks and power-efficient computer architectures.
Here are two interesting quotes from leaders of the CMI.
Simon Moore, from Cambridge University’s Computing Laboratory, who is leading the Community in Cambridge, says: "We can take a 1960s supercomputer, shrink it to the size of a sugar cube and sell it for under £10, but how do we use it to make your life better? It needs to be sentient, loyal, small and low maintenance."
And Victor Zue, from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, who is leading the Community at MIT, says: "Within the next decade, many of us will be fully immersed in a nomadic lifestyle, in which we will demand instant access to data and information for education, work, and play, no matter where we are."
For more information about this initiative, you can read this article from BBC News Online, "Computers to be 'oxygen of the future'."
Sources: The Cambridge-MIT Institute, March 24, 2004; Tracey Logan, BBC News Online, March 31, 2004