Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Lee T. Capps, vice president and IT strategy solution center leader for The Revere Group as a columnist for DMReview.com. He will examine how the acceptance of technology sets the stage for the concept of pervasive computing in all its facets in his Toward Pervasive Computing column each month.

Technology is rapidly finding its way into every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s how we shop, how we get from one place to another or how we communicate, technology is clearly woven into the way we live. Indeed, we are hurtling "toward pervasive computing."

We are heading toward a reality that plays like a scene from Star Trek. Scientists are already embedding chips into the human body, and it may not be long before we each have a chip behind our ear that supports dynamic wireless transmissions. We may have difficulty envisioning these possibilities, but they are not remote anymore. When Edison finally found a filament that would burn, did he see the possibility of silent but pervasive electrical current flowing throughout our homes, cars and communities?

In the coming months, we will be examining aspects of this accelerating onrush of technology. We will look at the intelligence that we are extracting from what was once mere data. We will see how the current thrall over wireless will fade as communication becomes as commonly accepted as alternating current. We will consider the impact on us as humans as we grapple to adapt our lives to the powerful new "toys" we are creating.

But first, let’s break down the title of this column: Toward Pervasive Computing.

Toward – Because We Ain’t Seen Nuthin’ Yet

Technology occurs in waves; it does not suddenly emerge and then disappear. Rather it has a flow like the tide; a cycle of technology emerges, achieves dominance and then begins to ebb as it matures and is supplemented with another dominant wave. As a human race, we are in our third major wave of technology and are beginning our fourth.

More than 15,000 years ago, humans learned that wild, freely occurring plants and animals could be domesticated, improving their yield and nutritional value. The advent of the agricultural age freed us hunter/gatherers from constant migration and allowed us to build communities, cultures and the technology to support them. The industrial age emerged only 200 years ago, bringing huge strides in productivity and reducing the obstacles of time and space. The information age was born a scant 50 years ago and – with the realities of Moore’s Law – is already permeating our way of life. Now we are entering the age of the genome, and its rate of maturity will have an even greater acceleration.

From 15,000 years to 200 years to 50 years ago: we are well into the information age, but we have a way to go before we achieve the maturity and ubiquity of agriculture or industrial ages.

Pervasive – We’ll Soon Forget It’s There

In recent decades, there has been continual rapid growth of technology. In the 1980s, the automotive industry became the single largest consumer of processors, supporting increasingly computerized applications from braking systems to on-dash displays to global positioning systems. Our homes have become more automated with computerized security and environmental control systems. Our financial activities are becoming more integrated through online banking and trading, including the "pushing" of market conditions and trading tips. Our contacts with the outside world are converging as well with telephone, television and Internet connections reaching us in a single networked fabric.

But, technology has probably only penetrated 20 to 30 percent of the potential applications across our daily personal and work experiences. We’re still conscious of all the wires and hookups. When our Internet cable connection goes out, we resort to our backup dial-up connection. When we inadvertently hit the wrong button on our answering machine, we lose unheard messages. While we have become technology dependent – and will inevitably grow more so – we have not yet developed the infrastructure that makes it completely dependable. In some ways, we are children playing with toys we are not prepared to manage. As technology becomes more pervasive, we will be less conscious of how it is "doing its thing" and more confident in its reliability.

Computing – It Says It All

The concept of computing has changed over the last few decades. It used to connote a "glass house" image of large-scale, capital-intensive corporate computing, isolated from daily living and awe inspiring in its complexity. It had the aura and prestige of the glory days of "Big Steel" – symbolic of American ingenuity and power but not part of our day- to-day world. The word "computing" is becoming an anachronism, replaced with all its various shades: processing, storage, transmission and all things digital.

Processing is morphing into any activity and space, from video to audio to control systems and all home and business functions. It is shifting from a passive execution of instructions (from a keyboard or a TV remote controller) to more active and intelligent guidance (from a GPS or an electronic trading application). Data storage is almost invisible, and transmission technology has filled the atmosphere with signals too varied to describe. It is a blessing that humans cannot visually perceive wireless transmissions occurring; the labyrinth of signals from cell phones, pagers, GPS devices and PDAs would make it impossible to navigate our simple physical reality.

But these aspects of computing are merging. Where we used to treat them as separate and distinct, they are combining to give us greater power and possibility. The result is greater intelligence – for predictive living, customer relationship management or investment decisions – as well as increasing questions and challenges to our way of life.

We are heading rapidly toward pervasive computing. Will technology be our panacea? Is this convergence inherently beneficial? How will judgment and discretion be applied as we move forward? The many contributors to this vector – the technologies, the applications and our ability to adapt – all demand their own inquiry and examination. We’ll be looking at them in the coming months.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access