A Critical Reading of the Scholarly and ICT Industry’s Construction of Ambient Intelligence for Societal Transformation of Europe

University essay from Malmö högskola/Fakulteten för kultur och samhälle (KS)

Abstract: Ambient Intelligence (AmI) refers to a vision of the information society where everyday human environments will be permeated by intelligent technology: people will be surrounded and accompanied by intelligent interfaces supported by computing and wireless networking technology that is ubiquitous, embedded in virtually all kinds of everyday objects. These computationally augmented, smart environments - composed of a myriad of invisible, distributed, networked, connected, interactive, and always-on computing devices - are aware of human context; sensitive to people's needs; adaptive to, and anticipatory of, their behavior; personalized to their requirements; and responsive to their emotion and presence, thereby intelligently supporting their daily and social lives by providing limitless services in a seamless and unobtrusive way. The vision of AmI assumes a paradigmatic shift in both computing and society – far-reaching societal implications. The challenge lies in developing AmI forms that acclimatise to societal change and the diversity of European socio-cultural life. Indeed, one of the most fundamental views in the prevailing AmI vision is a radical and technology-driven change to social environments and people’s lives. Research emphasizes the fundamental role the ISTAG, a group of scholars and ICT industry experts, plays in the reproduction of AmI as a positive force for societal change. Therefore, the objective of this study is to carry out a critical reading of the scholarly and ICT industry’s construction of AmI in relation to societal transformation. To achieve this objective, a discourse analytical approach was employed to examine the selected empirical material: three reports published by the ISTAG in 2001, 2003 and 2006. The approach consists of seven stages: (1) surface elements and organizational structure, (2) discursive constructions, (3) social actors, (4) language and rhetoric, (5) framing as power and operation, (6) positioning and legitimation, and (7) ideological viewpoints.The AmI discourse (vision) construction tends to be deterministic, i.e. it assumes that the ‘amization’ of society will lead to radical social transformations, and has an unsophisticated account of how social change occurs. It is also inclined to be rhetorical - it promises revolutionary social changes without really having a holistic strategy for achieving the goal. Moreover, topicalization is accomplished in correspondence with the preferred mental models and social representations. Furthermore, the discourse is exclusionary: many issues (pertaining to trust, social sustainability, human-centred design, healthcare, and community life) are left out with the intention to advance the idea of the eventual societal acceptance of AmI. It additionally plays a role in wider processes of legitimation of social agents and structures on the basis of normative and political reasons, and it offers different subject positions: between ISTAG and Europe and European citizens, and between citizens and ICT designers and producers. Likewise, it plays a major role in constructing the image of social actors – ISTAG, ICT industry, research community and EU – as well as in defining their relations and identities in ways that reallocate roles and reflect new attributes. A great highlight and space is awarded to represent these actors, and their views dominate the reports. They are the prime definer of the represented reality. As to ideological reproduction, the discourse perpetuates power relations, serves the interest of certain stakeholders in European society, and reconstructs ideological claims. This discursive endeavor provides a valuable reference for social researchers or scientists in related research communities. Until now, there has been, to the best of one’s knowledge, no comprehensive discursive research of AmI in relation to societal transformation, more specifically the potential of AmI in modernizing the European social model and in shaping Europe’s future.

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