Invisible Computing

— — Disclaimer! — —
Greetings. This is my first article on the internet. You can expect a big range of subjects that I’m gonna be writing about. I’m gonna try to be as unbiased as possible. Please, be aware, English isn’t my native language, but I gladly take constructive comments.
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This is inspired by the video Credit Cards and Invisible Computing
Professor Tom Rodden explains his point of view about Invisible Computing and how hard has become to recognize what a computer is and what isn’t.

What is Invisible computing?

So Professor Rodden, lays down the question “what is invisible computing?” and he gives the example asking people “How many computers you think have you passed by today?”, the host answers “Around 10… Depending on what I’m doing that day”.

I could go and say thousands, but for that, we have to clarify the concept of computing and what makes a computer, a computer.

This is where it gets difficult, telling the definition of it depends heavily on the background you have, the field you’re working, who’s concept did you hear it first from, and a couple of more things.

There’re a few concepts that I’ve personally encountered this problem with:

  • Artificial Intelligence (A.I.): Does your smartphone is capable of AI? Is Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana some form of A.I.?
  • Robot: Many people think that robots are some form of humanoids. In the other hand, some authors accept a calculator as a robot.
  • Computing: How do you differentiate simple boolean logic from high rich in algorithm computing?

For my own sake, I’ve found the solution for those, you may not agree with me on this one but here we go. In general, I think those are broader concepts that you can divide into more specific types. So with that, I can say a Calculator is a computer, a robot and some form of A.I.

But let’s go back into computing.

Computing” is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “The use or operation of computers”, and it defines “Computer” as “An electronic device which is capable of receiving information (data) in a particular form and of performing a sequence of operations in accordance with a predetermined but variable set of procedural instructions(program) to produce a result in the form of information or signals.”

In other words, a computer is something that has data as an input, do operations with it and brings back an output. I totally agree with this definition. Now you understand why I can say we cross by thousands of computers in a typical day.

Invisible computing is any type of computing happening around you, without you noticing. The car alarm, traffic lights, mall’s doors are a few examples.

Why is it important?

At the beginning detecting a computer used to be simple, they took a whole living room. Nowadays, they can be absurdly small, even a grain of rice sized Rfid chip can be counted as a computer.

Is it gonna be a time when they’re gonna be inside us? (Without taking into count pacemakers). What if they get to be so important to our body and we get filled by them? Are we still gonna be humans? Would that be a bad thing?

Have you given a little thought on what exactly those computers are computing?

Have you given a little thought on what exactly those computers are computing? Or are capable of? Maybe instead of just opening the door of your favorite mall, is also taking a picture of you and making a log of your moves inside the building, you know, security. Sounds crazy? What do you think red light cameras do? And, F.Y.I., it’s easier to identify you through your license plate than by your face. If that’s not the case today, It’s gonna be a reality in the future.

Google knows more about you than you do.

In a world where information is more valuable than tangible products, 3 of the top 5 most valuable companies in the world, 1 has a direct business model to get revenue from information, the other 2 does the same but indirectly. In other words, privacy. There’s a fun experiment if you don’t think your phone knows more about you than you do. List out 10 cell phone numbers from your contact list, without cheating of course. No luck? Me neither.

But not all of this invisible computing is bad. Imagine a whole network of sensors measuring and predicting the weather. Detecting typhoons, cyclones and probably earthquakes would be a day-to-day thing. That’ll be awesome.
Now imagine computers always running checks on your body, looking for anything that could be a threat, potential cancer, viruses that could be destroyed after detected by the computer. That’ll be awesome too.

But all of this means big integration of technology (IoT) and a big processing infrastructure of all that data that’s coming (Big Data). And don’t get me started on the security concerns of all this highly personal data, floating around in bigger proportions than it is today. Again, we’re talking about more information about you, than you by yourself can ever handle.

Big data & IoT are essential to invisible computing.

So far we’ve just talked about two concerns: privacy and existentialism. So again, why is it so important?

It’s important because of the same reason that makes invisible, invisible computers, the fact that we don’t notice or see them. I can see cases on the Supreme Court and Congresses around the world debating on what is ethical or not to compute. More serious than the FBI vs Apple about the San Bernadino shooter’s phone. Would it be ethical to compute people’s feelings in order to prevent a mass shooting? Yeah? What after? Compute everyone’s feelings and emotions to prevent a single robbery? And I can put down a case more complicated than this, but I think is long already.

If I left you with more questions than answers, that was the point.


The conclusion is to think about your environment and don’t take anything for granted. Pay attention on what everything implies. A simple law made today, could mean the invasion of our privacy in the future.

Remember, Invisible Computing isn’t our enemy, but it could be.