The missing element in an intelligent world


Penny Duquenoy


Research and development in ICT aims to bring us smaller, smarter and seamless information exchange. Pervasive and ubiquitous computing are commonly used terms to describe a new information age where life is made easier by technology operating in the background – invisible and non-disruptive in our everyday lives.[1] Whilst such technologies already exist in many spheres (domestic appliances and cars are simple examples) and are uncontroversial, the integration and inter-connection of these intelligent devices has a significant impact on individuals as citizens of the information society.

This significance is recognised by the European Commission (Information Society Technologies) in its 6th Framework programme in which we see the recurrence of the words “integration” and “intelligence” appearing in a number of spheres: (i) “Intelligent, adaptive and self-configuring systems”; (ii) “wearable or implantable systems … intelligent and communicating clothing and/or implants”; (iii) “intelligent systems that empower persons”; and (iv) “intelligent road vehicles and aircraft …”.[2]

In earlier EU discussions the notion of “Ambient Intelligence” [3] was promoted, described as “an environment where people are surrounded by intelligent intuitive interfaces that are embedded in all kinds of objects and an environment that is capable of recognising and responding to the presence of different individuals in a seamless, unobtrusive and often invisible way.” (Preface to the ISTAG report). In this ISTAG report four futuristic scenarios were devised to aid thinking on technical, economic and socio-political issues surrounding the integration of these technologies. What was not included was the ethical perspective.

A preliminary analysis of the four scenarios, from the ethical perspective, was carried out at a workshop session (facilitated by this author) at the 2nd IFIP Summer School 2003 “Risks and Challenges of the Networked Society”. [4] Participants in the workshop included academics, postgraduate students, and representatives from industry.

This paper builds on the above work by introducing comparable contemporary scenarios to draw out issues that are of concern today. By referencing the issues of today against the issues of the future (as depicted by the ISTAG scenarios), we can not only see the recurring problems, but should also be able to see emerging areas for consideration. Certain outcomes may not be surprising – for example, privacy issues are likely to increase -however, the method of categorisation and analogy could provide useful insights into where efforts for technical and legal support should be focussed. Areas of priority can be identified.

The future as envisaged by ISTAG is approaching at an alarming rate – the year of their scenarios is 2010. Whilst many of their concepts are unlikely to have evolved within the next 7 years, current advances in mobile communications systems and intelligent systems, together with wearable and embedded devices, urge some forward-thinking. Citizens can be seduced by the appeal of this integrated technology [5], the responsibility of its development and safe use is with the developers, designers, academics, and governments. Anticipating future issues is a sensible precaution, advocated by COMEST: “[There is an] increasing importance of ethical reflection in the light of the cultural and social effects of the rapid advance of scientific knowledge and technology.”[6]


[1] Pervasive computing is described as providing a paradigm “for all the time, everywhere services” (Second IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications. PerCom2004 The call for papers includes topics such as “Intelligent environments, wearable computers, smart devices and smart spaces” amongst others. Note also 4th International Workshop on Smart Appliances and Wearable Computing (

[2] (i) Applications and services for the mobile user and worker; (ii) E-health; (iii) E-inclusion; (iv) E-safety for road and air transport.

[3] Scenarios for Ambient Intelligence in 2010, Final Report, Compiled by K.Ducatel, M. Bogdanowicz, F.Scapolo, J. Leijten and J-C Burgelman, February 2001, IPTS Seville.

[4] Duquenoy, Penny and Vijay Masurkar (2003) “Surrounded by Intelligence” in Proceedings of 2nd IFIP Summer School “Risks and Challenges of the Networked Society”. Forthcoming.

[5] Di Pietro, Roberto and Luici V. Mancini “Security and Privacy Issues of Handheld and Wearable Wireless Devices” Communications of the ACM, September 2003/Vol.46.No.9: 75-79

[6] World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) Sub-Commission on “The Ethics of the Information Society” Report, September 2001.