Top 12 Areas for Innovation Through 2025: Pervasive Computing

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Pervasive computing will tie together billions of smart devices to expand connectivity and human capabilities over a wider area than ever before.

The DC-based research and consulting firm Social Technologies has released a series of 12 briefs that shed light on the top areas for technology innovation through 2025.

The third innovation brief in the series, "Pervasive Computing," was written by futurist Christopher Kent, who explains that soon we will live in a world where everything is connected.

"This hyper-connectivity will shift the Internet from the concept of being 'anytime, anyplace connectivity for anyone,' to 'connectivity for anything," he says.

Here's why.

Drivers of the new technology

Pervasive computing, or ubiquitous computing as it is often called, is the idea that eventually almost every device or object in our lives will be both "smart" and networked, Kent says.
"This will give rise to 'the Internet of things' that will push current trends toward the convergence of computing, Internet access, voice communications, and television--blurring categories of information and communication technology products and services."

Consumers will be the beneficiaries, Kent believes, for they will have access to devices of various sizes serving different needs, and devices with multifunctional capabilities. Of course, this assumes the spread of wireless broadband communications.

Other technologies are sure to emerge to support new capabilities, he says, including: smartphones, ambient user interfaces, set-top media boxes, fixed and wireless networking technologies, and telematics.

Challenges ahead

Although computing is growing in many areas, Kent points out significant obstacles will have to be overcome before pervasive computing becomes real. Consider these:

  •     Network security. The more things are linked, the easier it becomes for outsiders to access critical systems and information. For example, divorce attorneys on the east coast of the US have begun to subpoena EZpass automatic toll records in order to discredit philandering spouses.
  •     Managing increased data flows. Sensors, RFID tags, mobile networks, and wireless networks all use different protocols for communicating, creating a technological Tower of Babel. A unifying protocol would boost the development--but to date there is none, and so far the benefits of proprietary protocols outweigh the need for open systems.
  •     Costs. Most sensor networks are still being assembled from off-the-shelf parts, making them relatively expensive. Network analysts state that for sensor networks to be economical, the cost of sensor assembly needs to drop to $20 from the current $100.


What will change the game for pervasive computing? "Advances in quantum computing, smart data, cheap networked computers, low-cost sensors, and other novel developments," Kent forecasts.

  •     Quantum computing. The massive amount of information that will be gathered and processed to serve user needs will require increased computing power. At a basic level, quantum computing, which replaces semiconductor chips with computation driven by quantum interactions, could help to provide it. Although various elements have been successfully tested to prove the concept, no operational quantum computer has yet been constructed.
  •     Smart data. Breakthroughs in plastics and printing have led to the development of polymer-based microchips, which can be printed as large sheets, in some cases using off-the-shelf inkjet printer technology. These could provide a cheap and easy way to make electronics and promote the distribution of intelligence far and wide, even in throwaway devices.
  •     One laptop per child. You've heard of the "$100 laptop," which is essentially a simple and inexpensive computing device with integrated wireless telephone and Internet capabilities. It will bring the benefits of pervasive computing to Worlds 2 and 3. Look to Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child project, spearheaded by the MIT Media Lab. For $150 per model, it has a scratch-resistant screen, can be read outdoors, and has the networking capability to create a mesh network with other nearby laptops. This function allows users to tap into wider global networks in areas where no connectivity existed--giving users access to education, entertainment, and retail resources.

Learn more

To determine the relevance of these findings and forecasts for major business sectors, set up an interview with Christopher Kent by sending an email to Hope Gibbs, leader of corporate communications, at hope.gibbs @

About Christopher Kent Futurist:
Christopher Kent is a writer/analyst with more than 10 years' experience tracking emerging public policy and social policy issues, primarily with Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting), a leading geopolitical-intelligence service. His expertise spans topics such as consumer and industry trends in the energy sector, the future of China, consumer lifestyles in Europe, and the impacts of microcredit in World 3. Christopher also oversees Social Technologies' internship program. He has an MA in the history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance from the University of Toronto, and an undergraduate degree in history and English from Marquette University. Areas of expertise: Media and entertainment, tourism and leisure, technology.

About Social Technologies:
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information visit, the blog, and the newsletter


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