Editor’s note: Ed Crockett writes on technology trends that are of interest to entrepreneurs and the tech community each Monday in Local Tech Wire. First we didn’t have computers, then came the mainframe, which was followed by the PC. Computing is now shifting to something less obvious, something ubiquitous and ambient. Like the air we breathe and the light that surrounds us, pervasive computing is omnipresent, intuitive, and always on. Pervasive computing is slipping into our daily lives unnoticed. And it’s becoming the focus of conversations worldwide.

What is pervasiveness?

Mark Weiser, an employee of Xerox Corporation in 1993, said that a pervasive computing environment is one that is application-rich in computerized devices that are at once very functional and invisible to the user. Many know Weiser as the father of pervasive computing.

Webpedia defines pervasive computing as an infinite network of voice recognition, Internet, and artificial intelligence devices that are wirelessly networked, unobtrusive, and always on.

Ubiquitous Computing captures the essence of pervasive computing in its definition: “Ubiquitous computing names the third wave of computing, just now beginning–the age of calm technology , when technology recedes into the background of our lives.”

The state of computing today is at once the beginning of the end of the PC paradigm and the beginning of a place in time when computing power finally comes out of the box to be with us, wherever we go and whenever we need it.
Pervasive computing has slipped into the automobile. At the 2000 Paris Auto Show, IBM and PSA Peugeot Citroen unveiled a wireless web-capable car that is WAP-enabled. WAP stands for ‘wireless application protocol.’ This means occupants can access the Internet from places on the road.

A Bluetooth-enabled PDA and a similarly equipped mobile telephone with always-on Internet service is inherently pervasive, especially if the PDA understands voice commands. A simple spoken command like “lib-congress” might, for example, put resources of the Library of Congress inside your PDA, almost instantly.

Much of pervasive computing is already integrated into our lives…home and office security systems that sense and react to motion, lighting systems that ‘know’ when to illuminate and when to extinguish, grocer’s doors that ‘know’ when to open…it’s all part of our lives today, but what lies ahead dwarfs what we see now.

A Pervasive Future

The transition to a fully pervasive future will be from computer-driven to human-driven with computers becoming omnipresent…always at the disposal of humans.

A pervasive future includes a watch that monitors and corrects glucose levels for the diabetic, a voice that guides us while we journey, PDAs and mobiles that listen, transaction cards that need not be presented– ad-infinitum.

The United States Government has a big steak in pervasive computing. The Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is out to maximize technology’s contribution to America’s economic growth. NIST’s Alden Dima and Kevin Mills, representing government thinking on the subject, wrote “Pervasive computing is the next great computing paradigm shift and will have no less of an impact to industry, government, and daily life than the personal computer itself.”

IBM, which is widely known for its prowess in computers, software, and technology R&D, is also active in pervasive computing. Mark Begman, general manager of IBM’s Pervasive Computing Division, says (of the future of pervasive computing hardware), “These devices are going to liberate us from that box on our desks.”

Begman’s vision is that the desktop computer is giving way to a new generation of smart devices like personal digital assistants, screen phones, kiosks, smart cell phones and even intelligent credit cards (smart cards).

Want to learn more? Check out the following links:

IBM: www.research.ibm.com/journal/sj38-4.html

Wired Magazine: www.wired.com/wired/archive/6.08/jini.html