Mark Weiser* in 1991 set the vision for a new world of computing that he called ubiquitous computing: “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”

He meant to reposition the center of our world by moving towards human centered computing, where technology assists us adapting to human needs and preferences while remaining in the background, silent until required.  In the ubiquitous computing world, people are connected not just to the internet or other computers, but to places, other people, even to everyday objects and things. Indeed the frontier of today’s research is very much related to this vision: Wireless Sensor Networks, Cyber Physical Systems, Internet of Things, and Systems of Systems, are all different facets of this encompassing vision albeit each theme emphasizes one particular aspect. 

Over the past decade there have been important technology advances that make us very close and even beyond this bold vision:

The leverage of a vast amount of computing and storage entities that are available today in the internet (the cloud).

The design and manufacturing of a large variety of sensing and interface nodes and the associated networks. We will be immersed in a sea of networked real-world devices (the swarm) to help solve societal-scale problems. 

The embedding of tiny electronic systems in the human body and in particular in the brain (bio-cyber physical systems). 

Sensor-based systems have already been proposed (and in some cases, deployed) for a broad range of monitoring (and even actua-tion) applications. But the potential goes far beyond what has been accomplished so far. When realized in full, these technologies can seamlessly integrate the cyber world (centered today in the cloud) with our physical/biological world, effectively blurring the gap between the two. This can enable humans, machines and infrastructure that are far more aware and adaptive to their environment.

The possibility of linking the brain with the system consisting of the swarm and the cloud offers complete new vistas on the interaction between men, machines and the physical environment. The challenges in mastering the design of applications that can effectively, reliably, safely and securely leverage this new technology are immense and so are the ethical, social and economic issues that cannot be forgotten where concepts such as privacy and security must be based on a fundamentally different paradigm.

Prof. Dr. Alberto Sangiovanni Vincentelli, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, University of California at Berkeley

*US-American scientist, 1952 -1999