Contextual Computing and Intelligent Assistants

How many times has this happened to you? You’re sitting in an important meeting with your boss or a client, when all of a sudden your smartphone rings. One moment everything’s quiet and serious, the next moment some embarrassing ringtone is blaring out from your pocket or purse.

Context AwareCellular News posted an article this week on the topic of contextual computing, or contextual sensing in smartphones, to be more precise. It turns out that this technology might rescue you from these horrifying moments when you forget to silence your phone. So what is contextual computing and how can it help?

Based on the Cellular News article, contextual computing is the ability for a device to interpret data gathered from a sensor hub. Intel created a sensor hub in 2012 and since that time, data-gathering sensor hubs have been incorporated into different chips. This technology could soon lead to personal intelligent assistants that pick up on sensory data, such as ambient sounds and location information, to determine that you’re in a meeting. When a call or text comes in, the assistant will know that it should alert you via a vibration, instead of by blaring your annoying ring tone.

This is just a mundane example of how intelligent assistants can leverage contextual computing to serve us better. The article points out that Intel has created a contextual sensing software development kit (SDK). Developers can use the SDK to write programs that pull data from one or more sensor hub chips, helping to paint a full picture of where the user is and what they’re doing. These programs can also incorporate learning algorithms so that assistants can learn to predict behaviors.

If we’re driving a certain route and listening to a specific radio station, for example, the assistant can learn that we’re on our way to work and it could remind us of an early meeting. Under other circumstances, it could extrapolate that we’re out for a run and it could play our favorite exercise music and send calls straight to voicemail. The possibilities are limitless.

As always, the question about privacy can’t be ignored. Users need the choice to opt in or out of data gathering and the ability to turn off collection during specific times. But the benefits of an intelligent personal assistant that understands what we’re doing are tremendously compelling.

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