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Science and Technology
Computer Science - semantic processing, wireless services, computing, context-aware computing
Proactive and context-aware computer systems that anticipate users' needs and perform tasks in a timely and context-sensitive manner may begin to have an impact within the next 10 years.
Summary Analysis:
By 2015 computer users could be moving away from foreground computing where our devices and networks wait patiently and passively for our typed instructions or mouse clicks, toward new ways of interacting with computers in which delegated systems perform tasks proactively on users’ behalf, tuned precisely to the momentary requirements of time and place. A range of complex automated tasks could be performed proactively if a mobile computing unit were able to sense a person, application, or device's context. Examples include:

  • Search a smart calendar and itinerary for available times and destinations
  • Preconfigure account logins and identities
  • Set appointments with colleagues
  • Search and summarise background data for use in transit and at probable destinations, including proactively searching for and caching background data for meetings with people
  • Distribute documents and meeting work products

Context-aware systems will use software applications that understand our human context or our devices’ context. Micro-local information could be cached on embedded wireless micro servers. Geo-coded information (tagged with latitude, longitude, and altitude or height) and invisible digital map data could be accessible and actionable. Data about the functions, activities, and infrastructure of a place, along with its history, culture, politics, and economics could become selectively visible and useful online in information-saturated spaces.

Smart programs -- such as contextually enhanced calendars and to-do lists -- running on our smart wearable and persistent systems will negotiate with embedded sensor nets and pervasive net servers, performing delegated tasks on our behalf in a manner appropriate to the context. Mobile devices could be able to sense the signal environment -- the signal strength and the location of transmitters at different frequencies, including wide area mobile networks and wireless local area networks -- and then, on the next anticipated visit, preconfigure network signalling with programmable signal processors and software-defined radios.

Change may be gradual as many small component systems become available one-by-one. But over time, contextual computational processes will enhance personal and group productivity by proactively executing time-consuming processes to meet human requirements.


  • Enhanced personal and group productivity

Early Indicators:

  • Increasing personal use of computerized calendars, to-do lists, and itineraries
  • Delivery of low-key targeted ads in the context of each Google search
  • Development of a simple thermostat that adjusts air conditioners in the context of human and energy requirements for each time and place in a building
  • Development of demonstrations and prototypes, such as the toolkit for context-aware applications being built by Anind K. Dey at the University of California, Berkeley

What to Watch:

  • Demonstrations of prototypes of context-aware applications at annual conferences such as the International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing and the International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Modeling and Using Context improve in robustness and credibility as services and applications become practical for popular usage.
  • Convergence of technologies (eg "Tom-Tom"-like navigation aids) into mobile phones/hand-held devices.


  • Xerox's PARCTAB


  • Continued research and converging developments in related disciplines such as semantic processes, mobile communications, and embedded computers and sensor nets


  • Stop & Shop and IBM's (new "Shopping Buddy" shopping cart with scanner knows customer's history and favorites)
  • Dartmouth Solar (A Scalable Context-Fusion Network for Pervasive Computing) [link]
  • Intel's proactive computing research [link]
  • University of Lancaster [link]
  • University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory [link]
  • University of Bath [link]
  • University of Calgary (Canada) [link]


  • Schilit, Bill, Norman Adams, and Roy Want. "Context-Aware Computing Applications." Proceedings of IEEE Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications. Santa Cruz, CA. December 1994. IEEE Computer Society Press. [link]
  • "International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Modeling and Using Context" Context-05 [link]
  • Ubicomp. "International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing" [link]
  • Pervasive. "International Conference on Pervasive Computing" [link]
  • "Location and Context-Awareness." First International Workshop. LoCA 2005. [link]
  • Dey, Anind K. "Context Toolkit – A toolkit for context-aware applications." [link]
  • "The Dashboard - Continuous automatic search of your information space." Nat Friedman [link]
  • "Context Recognition by User Situation Data Analysis (Context) - a joint effort of the Department of Computer Science and HIIT Basic Research Unit, both at University of Helsinki, and of HIIT Advanced Research Unit." The research project is funded by the Academy of Finland during years 2002-2005. [link]
  • Wu, Huadong, Mel Siegel, Sevim Ablay. "Sensor Fusion for Context Understanding." Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University. [link]
  • Gellersen, Hans W., Albercht Schmidt, Michael Beigl. "Multi-sensor context-awareness in mobile devices and smart artifacts." TecO, University of Karlsruhe, Germany, Association for computing Machinery, Mobile Networks and Applications, Pages: 341 – 351 October 2002 [link]
  • Harter, Andy, Andy Hopper, Pete Steggles, Andy Ward, Paul Webster. "The Anatomy of a Context-Aware Application." AT&T Labs. 'Mobile Computing and Networking''. 1999. [link]
  • Nigel Davies et al, Developing a Context-Sensitive Tourist Guide [link]
  • Thomas Erickson, Some problems with the notion of context-aware computing, IBM [link]
  • Jim Crowley and Joelle Coutaz, Context-Aware Observation of Human Activity [link]
  • Louise Barkhuus and Anind Dey, Is Context-Aware Computing Taking Control Away from the User? [link]
  • Guruduth Banavar et al, Deriving Long-Term Value from Context-Aware Computing [link]
  • Victoria Bellotti and Keith Edwards: Intelligibility and Accountability: Human Considerations in Context-Aware Systems, Human-Computer Interaction, 2001, Vol. 16, No. 2, 3 & 4, Pages 193-212 [link]

At A Glance:
3–10 years
How Fast:

Related Outlooks:

About this outlook: An outlook is an internally consistent, plausible view of the future based on the best expertise available. It is not a prediction of the future. The AT-A-GLANCE ratings suggest the scope, scale, and uncertainty associated with this outlook. Each outlook is also a working document, with contributors adding comments and edits to improve the forecast over time. Please see the revision history for earlier versions.

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