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Technology Hardware

Marc Andreessen Describes Vision of 'Ambient Computing' (telegraph.co.uk) 106

An anonymous reader writes: Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, is one of the biggest investors in technology. In an interview with The Telegraph, he spoke about how he envisions the future of computing. It's essentially an extension on the idea of the "Internet of Things." He thinks mobile phones will begin to be replaced in just 10 years. "The idea that we have a single piece of glowing display is too limiting. By then, every table, every wall, every surface will have a screen or can project." Within 20 years, he expects most new physical objects to have some sort of chip implanted within them. "The end state is fairly obvious — every light, every doorknob will be connected to the internet." The term for this is "ambient computing." There will obviously be a transition period — perhaps the so-called internet of things is just an early phase of that transition. But with powerful chips and sensors becoming incredibly cheap, Andreessen's scenario seems possible. I guess it's time to get cracking on those security and privacy concerns.
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Marc Andreessen Describes Vision of 'Ambient Computing'

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    • by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @06:42PM (#51183977)

      The "Internet of Things" will be nothing but a gigantic clusterfuck, due to the fact that nobody gives two shits about security.

      • They need to clear some things like IPv6 before "Internet of Things" can work...

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Marc Andreessen over-estimates his mental ability. He accidentally made a lot of money. Now he thinks he is intelligent.
        • It's like seeing a sports star who was great back in the day, or an artist who did one good album.

      • Why care about security? Surely nobody is going to hack your car, or your refrigirator. Why not hook everything to the Internet? Your pace maker, your Parkinsons brain implant, should all be online and accessable at all times.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        It will be like cars. At first no one cares about safety, until things start going badly wrong and they are forced to care.

    • Bullshit!

      So, I'm guessing from that statement, that you have the intention of connecting your butt to the Internet of Things. Who knows, it might be a big hit, and your butt will be the next Facebook . . . ?

      • It is BS because there is no reason to connect a doorknob to the Internet. Once a door is smart enough, it can open itself, and there won't be a doorknob. I was once with a friend who missed his bus. He said he wished he had a Star Trek transporter ... so he could beam himself to the next bus stop. Wishing for a "smart doorknob" is the same sort of small minded thinking.

        • I was once with a friend who missed his bus. He said he wished he had a Star Trek transporter ... so he could beam himself to the next bus stop.

          Darn it Bill. Well done indeed. My hero Yogi Berra would have loved it!

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            Heh... I had a friend come up and visit last spring and I took him over to a small town where I'd bought a piece of property. I was showing him where some famous people had lived and talking about the town's history, pretty much how everything had passed by and there was little left but memories. We walked by a graveyard and he turned to me and asked, "So, who's dead in there?"

            I replied, "Everybody."

            At any rate, if you ever get the chance to visit Maine - you might like it. You'd probably fit right in. They

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          They'll find a reason to justify it. They wanted to push RFID tags onto everyone, so the idea was to have the refrigerator and freezer internet ready. Then they could tell you how much time each food item had before it expired it's sell by date. An internet-ready toaster could bake messages onto your bread.

          Maybe doorknobs would use fingerprint recognition so that doors could only be opened or closed by chosen people at chosen times.

          • Maybe doorknobs would use fingerprint recognition so that doors could only be opened or closed by chosen people at chosen times.

            Face recognition would be a better way to achieve that. Fingerprint recognition won't work if the user is wearing gloves, and you would still have all the old drawbacks of doorknobs, including spreading disease, difficult to open when carrying things, difficult to use if in a wheelchair or using crutches, etc.

    • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @07:23PM (#51184123) Journal

      That line edited for the summary (and people say editors don't do anything) actually goes like this:

      "The idea that we have a single piece of glowing display is too limiting.
      By then, every table, every wall, every surface will have a screen or can project," he told the Telegraph.
      "Hypothetically you walk upto a wall, sit at a table and [talk to] an earpiece or eyeglasses to make a call. The term is ambient or ubiquitous computing."

      If tables, walls etc. have screens or projectors - why special earpieces or glasses?
      If special glasses are ubiquitous - who needs screens in tables and walls? Wouldn't empty and clean flat surfaces be far more useful then?
      And what's the use of a chip in a chair? To tell you that it is occupied or not? Wouldn't a single camera in the room do that and more?

      Article further gives examples such as:

      Pharmaceutical companies transporting drugs or vaccines need to constantly monitor temperature;
      logistics or delivery companies track their fleet of vehicles over long distances;
      and perishable food companies need to monitor internal temperature and humidity of trucks to check if their goods are spoiling.

      None of that is "Internet of Things" or "ambient or ubiquitous computing" nor would those examples benefit from chips and sensors on every single item that is being transported in those trucks.
      Why then all those additional sensors?

      Well... cause it would be expensive to make dedicated case by case monitoring systems to replace somewhat manual (but cheap) solutions already employed. As in, there's an employee doing that right now.
      So the solution is to cover EVERYTHING with sensors instead.
      Thus eliminating the cost of installing sensors and networks by shifting it to every producer of everything in the world.
      Who would then shift that cost (and all the unnecessary "features" they'd have to invent for their products) - to the customers.
      While "the cloud" will pick up the rest.

      Thus, "reducing the costs" of creating "ubiquitous computing" to software only - i.e. nothing, as developers are already being paid anyway, or they'll just do it for fun and experience.
      That's the logic.

      "The problem is that manual measurements are very common in hospitals, pharmaceutical delivery chains, and even the distribution of dairy and meat produce.
      Someone actually goes to the warehouse to fill out a report with pen and paper every 3 hours," says Samsara's CEO Sanjit Biswas, whose previous network technology startup Meraki sold to Cisco for over $2 billion.

      His big idea: installing cheap sensors, and uploading and analysing data to the cloud makes Samara 1/10th of the cost of existing industrial sensors (complex systems made by huge incumbents like Intel), and deployable in under 10 minutes.

      "If you want a tailored system, someone like IBM will build you a custom solution but it usually costs $5m so it doesn't make sense unless you're a large company," he explains.

      Andreessen is a fierce believer in the impact of this wave of software-driven sensor startups.
      His core thesis is that over the next 20 years every physical item will have a chip implanted in it.
      "The end state is fairly obvious - every light, every doorknob will be connected to the internet.
      Just like with the web itself, there will be thousands of of use cases - energy efficiency, food safety, major problems that aren't as obvious as smartwatches and wearables," he says.

      Except that is not "software-driven sensors" but "sensor-driven software".
      Which relies on someone first providing ubiquitous sensors in every doorknob - which could then be used for "major problems that aren't as obvious".

      I.e. It's a solution we don't really have a problem for quite yet. But it would be great if someone else paid for it.

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        I may be able to answer some of your questions:

        If tables, walls etc. have screens or projectors - why special earpieces or glasses?

        It could be lack of vision on Mr. Andreessen's part. Or possibly better sound quality, or so it can more easily identify the speaker. But really he is just speculating, so maybe it will be screens, or maybe it will be glasses. He doesn't know, he is just trying to get people to imagine it and think about it.

        If special glasses are ubiquitous - who needs screens in tables and walls? Wouldn't empty and clean flat surfaces be far more useful then?

        The glasses may

        • The glasses may have limited resolutions, bandwidth, or battery life. A screen on the table might be better for children, or for collaboration. Yes, in theory the special glasses could display the same thing to each person, in the same way that 5 people could sit together and watch a movie on their phones, but that may be awkward or inefficient.

          Do you really believe it is a good idea to consume energy for devices that have no real purpose? How efficient it is to waste energy on a myriad of useless devices? Once people will have to pay the energy bill, let me tell you the intelligent doorknob will not come to reality. Do you really think it is more efficient to watch a movie on a table turned into a screen rather than on a TV screen designed for this purposed and hanged to the wall? Andreessen is smoking weed.

          • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

            It looks like you have some valid criticism of Mark Andreessen's article. I recommend posting those in reply to the Slashdot posting, rather than my post.

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          Special glasses would be useful when going outside away from man-made structrues in the outback. For motorcyclists the display could be built into the visor.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I'm fact most commercial transport vehicles already have GPS trackers and, for cold storage, temperature sensors built in. They are very cheap already, it's just the backbend system to monitor it all that is custom and somewhat expensive.

        These days microcontrollers cost cents and usually have sensors like a thermometer built in. If you open up a random LED desk lamp chances are there is some kind of microcontroller in there, allowing for PWM controlled brightness levels and thermal cut off of the power supp

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      "... every light, every doorknob will be connected to the internet."

      Allow me to be vulgar and say, "Like fuck it will." There is absolutely zero chance of that happening - and I'm kind of a computer loving geek. I have 0 IoT type devices that actually do the whole "internet" part of that - unless you want to count cameras and, even then, I have to login to a local system, as I am not home, and then (and only then) is that very specific IP address allowed to view those camera feeds.

    • Yes, but what if you could control your Nintendo with Play-Doh? Or make a piano from bananas?

      http://www.makeymakey.com/

  • "The end state is fairly obvious — every light, every doorknob will be connected to the internet." The term for this is "ambient computing." There will obviously be a transition period — perhaps the so-called internet of things is just an early phase of that transition. But with powerful chips and sensors becoming incredibly cheap, Andreessen's scenario seems possible. I guess it's time to get cracking on those security and privacy concerns.

    And when that happens, expect trolling and hacking to b

    • Sounds like the state of the world only a decade before the subjugation of the human race.
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Are people getting killed for hacking yet, outside of specific national security and military targets?

      I could almost see a bank or large financial institution employing some kind of private security contractor to clip especially obnoxious overseas hackers who aren't easily accessible to the normal law enforcement channels.

      On the other hand, IDing specific culprits and actually tracking them down might be tough and the more serious ones usually have substantive local allegiances that could make them difficul

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I probably have more crap in my house than you, yet there are plenty of people who know where my key is and know the alarm code. The alarm, if set off, would mean the cops get there in an hour or so - at best. What I do have is insurance. If my house gets broken into then I'm going to want to know why because they could have just asked me. Depending on who, how, and why - I might not even want to have them sent to jail. You want them put away for life, over property?

      I don't want to live in your future.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @06:58PM (#51184031) Journal
    There is already a domain where ubiquitous integration of high complexity capabilities into virtually all materials with room for them is a reality.

    We call it "Biology". And, in my professional capacity as a fungus, let me remind you that you'd be fucking insane to want your computers to go down that path.

    It's impressive that machines made of meat work at all; but that doesn't change the fact that they are tottering heaps of uncontrolled complexity, riddled with pathogens and parasites, kept alive only because they are (sometimes) more fault-tolerant than they are faulty; and because the various microorganism militias are too busy fighting assorted cryptic metabolic battles and it is possible to enter alliances of convenience with some of them, if you get lucky.

    People have done a terrible enough job keeping a bunch of loosely-linked deterministic finite state machines from descending into a putrid jungle of malware that inspires comparison to unpleasant biological outcomes. You want to add more; and link them more tightly? Have fun with that.
    • by myowntrueself ( 607117 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @09:26PM (#51184473)

      There is already a domain where ubiquitous integration of high complexity capabilities into virtually all materials with room for them is a reality.

      We call it "Biology". And, in my professional capacity as a fungus, let me remind you that you'd be fucking insane to want your computers to go down that path.

      I went from majoring in computer science to studying biology (ecology, cell biology and genetics, just up to stage 3). It was a humbling experience.

      Computer scientists and engineers like to feel that what they work with is sophisticated and cool. This stuff is *nothing* on biological systems.

      • In its defense, CS has some brutally elegant math. Unfortunately, that fact is arguably reason for pessimism in this case. Despite the availability of the elegant math, much of what we actually use has undergone only the shoddiest of empirical testing, whether for want of interest, want of time, want of talent, or whatever it happened to be. CS is hardly easy; but its mathematical underpinnings are much closer to the surface than in most other areas. If what we do today shows how little advantage we take of
  • This scares me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Calibax ( 151875 ) * on Friday December 25, 2015 @06:59PM (#51184035)

    Just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done.

    The more complex a system, the easier it is to disrupt. Last week we lost power one evening for a couple of hours and my young daughter didn't know what to do. She couldn't understand why nothing except her iPad would work. No TV, no computer, no Internet, no music, no texting, no contact with anyone not physically in her presence. But at least she could access the refrigerator and her room.

    If, as suggested in the summary, "every light, every doorknob will be connected to the internet." then she wouldn't be able open a door or even enter or exit the house without approval from some server. Lack of power or a lack of connectivity would be a serious impediment to simply living in a house. Would all these things be controlled from a house server? Is everyone going to become a sysop? And think what a hacker could do with access to the house server. Or a burglar.

    Or am I misunderstanding how this would all work?

    • Re: This scares me (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So you're saying your daughter is an idiot?

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      While I do not agree with the Internet of Things completely, you are thinking about it incorrectly. Fail-safes have been around forever. In the case of an internet connected door, someone at some point would be responsible for programming its default behavior when power or data are unavailable (locked or unlocked, or manual mode). Same for any other device.

      As to burglars, it simply changes the skillset required to be successful. A determined thief or gang of thieves will find a way in if they want regar

      • someone at some point would be responsible for programming its default behavior when power or data are unavailable (locked or unlocked, or manual mode).

        That someone is probably a 24-year old MBA or some dipshit from Calcutta whose name actually is "Dipshit".

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I think you misunderstand. For example, my car has automatic headlights that come on when a sensor says that it is dark. There is a manual override in case that sensor fails.

      So in your high tech house the lights might switch off when you are not in the room and come on automatically, but you would still have an override switch on the wall.

      The real danger is that the lights are too smart and become hackable, and some 4chan loser decides to give you an epileptic fit.

      • Physical switches cost money. Once you have some other control mechanism, it's almost inevitable that it'll become the only mechanism.

        • Physical switches cost money. Once you have some other control mechanism, it's almost inevitable that it'll become the only mechanism.

          This seems unlikely anywhere the idiot hipsters haven't taken over. All of us have those physical switches right now. That's all we have, right now. Only an idiot hipster would remove the physical switch for a "cleaner user interface experience". Then they'll complain about their insomnia when the hidden electronically controlled switch fails. The rest of us will just turn off the damn light.

          • They're everywhere.

            I have an old archos PMA. It has a d-pad, a pause/go/enter key, a back/close key and a menu key. And the interface just fucking works.

            Most things these days do retain one physical switch - for on and off. But it wouldn't surprise me if that starts disappearing, replaced by some magic gesture or somesuch twatty shit.

  • every table, every wall, every surface will have a screen or can project." Within 20 years, he expects most new physical objects to have some sort of chip implanted within them.

    That sounds like a hacker's playground to me.
    DEFCON is going to get more and more fun the closer we get to that.

    • Television is currently testing rooms 3/4 filled with displays at the walls... see how easily they redecorate the same room between GSN's The Pyramid and The Chase.

  • He also says widgets are great, and that despite living in only the 2nd or 3rd generation to be able to have widgets, they are not only essential but should be mixed into soda and consumed with every meal. The road to the future is paved with widgets, upon which we hold numerous patents. So. Buy widgets. Buy them by the truck load. Buy them TODAY!

  • This is just stupid. So I don't need a dedicated "single piece of glowing display" in my hand anymore, because I happen to have a doorknob nearby with "some sort of chip implanted within" that is "connected to the internet". So to read a message, I will go touch the doorknob, and then a nearby light begins flashing the message out in morse code? I know that sounds dumb, but that is what he is inferring, right? You don't need a device in your hand because there's just a random assortment of connected stuff

  • Ambient is the name of a data service that broadcasts easily-agreed-upon facts like stock quotes and sports scores and stats and weather nowcasts and AccuWeather forecasts. Marc, you need to call this new concept something else.

  • Same ideas that Mark Weiser was talking about at Xerox PARC in the early 1980s.

    -jcr

    • Meh, that's old silicon valley logic. Here in the future; ideas only matter if VCs or annoying startup founders who use the world 'disruptive' a lot talk about them.
      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        Good ideas are often worth repeating. It is neat to know that in 2015 that Mr. Weiser's ideas are still stirring interest, and perhaps closer to reality. It's too bad he didn't live to see this.

  • First it was people walking around being obsessed with USENET, discussion forums and flame wars. Then it was their iPhones - continuously textings, facebooking, whatever. I see them on the street all the time, not to mention in restaurants. But now that's not enough. Noooo... We're going to be connected through the Internet of Things - network connected refrigerators, stoves, home furnaces, lamps, medicine cabinets, toilets, table lamps and door knobs. And that's not to mention our self-driving cars

  • A mere fragment of the summary tells the important point:
    Marc Andreessen ... is one of the biggest investors in technology.

    He was once a technologist but he has been a finance puke ever since. As with all of that kind, his primary interest now is in blowing the biggest bubbles he can bet on. Then he will quietly exit by selling to fools before the bubble bursts.

    Why will your parent's retirement funds buy into these bubbles near their end of life? Because the same finance pukes tell them too!

    Of the many item

  • Someday, you won't be able to enter your house without waiting for a software update to complete. Nirvana!
  • by satsuke ( 263225 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @09:58PM (#51184571)

    I'm still not seeing a strong use case for having every-thing connected ..

    Certainly for things like furniture, just as not all those objects or walls will have need for a display.

    It goes back to an old recycling meme .. the "you can extract petroleum, refine it, form it into pellets, form that into a fork, transport it to market where it is bought, transported to place of use and than finally -- used and discarded .. or you can wash the fork and set it aside for reuse".

    Meaning in this context, you _could_ have the tables and chairs in a diner report their utilization and/or have a system optimally place customers to enable more people to be served in a given period .. or you can allow the much simpler approach customers use of "sit at an open table".

  • One little fly in the ointment.... security. Just what I need, some hacker in Nigeria turns off my table unless I give him access to my refrigerator to hide some $60M of his inheritance in gold bullion. Then what the hell am I supposed to do with a platform supported by a quattro-brace?
  • we thank you for your cooperation.
  • Just imagine how difficult it will become to commit a crime. Pawn Shops would easily be made to not allow the purchase of any item whose chip is not reporting properly. Twisting a door knob could result in a pic being snapped of every home or door in your neighborhood. Every car, motorcycle or bicycle could record everywhere it goes as could every wallet or wrist watch. If we surveil every object, we actually end up surveilling every person 24/7/365. I wonder how much truth we can live with.
  • Years ago, with a then-ubiquitous Moto flip phone at my hip, I "invented" what I called the "Urban Commando Phone" - the cell phone already had a clock, why not add things like flashlight, garage door remote, TV Universal Remote, etc. so that instead of having dozens of devices, you had one to "rule them all".

    I had no idea, at the time, of the types of convergence that would come in the form of the smart phone, which has all of these and many more either available built in
    or easily available.

    The term "ubiqu

  • My doorknobs, actually they are more like lever, are perfectly fine. They do not need to be computerized. I do not need a screen in my tables. At the work place there are too many things placed on them. And at home. The table is for eating. If there would be a screen in it, like in my tablet, then it would have to be cleaned intensively after every meal. And when I am eating, I am eating. I do not need to surf the net. And if I want to, I could still use my phone or tablet or notebook. I also do not need a

  • by dltaylor ( 7510 ) on Saturday December 26, 2015 @05:12AM (#51185441)

    Although, they called it "ubiquitous computing". There were connected white-boards and sticky notes all over PARC when I visited there back in the 1980s. Anywhere a few people could have a hallway meeting, in the conference areas, and work spaces, scribbled ideas could be worked out saved and distributed, and recalled, as needed. Took a fair amount of back-end horsepower, but that was before a 64-bit computer fit on your wrist.

    It had definite value to a creative group, as they had then, but in most workspaces or residences, it would just be distributing drivel and be a security nightmare.

  • If he thinks that objects everywhere will have displays his vision of the future is very limited. In the display will be always in front of our eyes similar to Google glasses, so we can have it literally ANYWHERE. This will shortly be supplanted by a neurological HUD without physical form.

The only difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman is that the car salesman knows he's lying.

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