Ambient intelligence opens up a world of unprecedented experiences. The interaction of people with electronic devices will change as context awareness, natural interfaces, and ubiquitous availability of information come to fruition. Ambient intelligence is going to impose major challenges on multimedia research. Distributed multimedia applications and their processing on embedded static and mobile platforms will play a major role in the development of ambient-intelligent environments. The requirements that ambient-intelligent multimedia applications impose on the mechanisms users apply to interact with media call for paradigms substantially different from contemporary interaction concepts. The complexity of media will continually increase in terms of volume and functionality, thus introducing a need for simplicity and ease of use. Therefore, the massively distributed, integrated use of media will require replacing well-known interaction vehicles, such as remote control and menu-driven search and control, with novel more intuitive, and natural concepts. This article reviews the concept of ambient intelligence and elaborates on its relation with multimedia. (The "Advances in media processing" sidebar gives insight into the developments that have set the stage for this new step forward.) The emphasis is on qualitative aspects, highlighting those elements that play a role in realizing ambient intelligence. Multimedia processing techniques and applications are key to realizing ambient intelligence, and they introduce major challenges to the design and implementation of both media-processing platforms and multimedia applications. Technology will not be the limiting factor in realizing ambient intelligence. The ingredients to let the computers disappear are already available, but the true success of the paradigm will depend on the ability to develop concepts that allow natural interaction with digital environments. We must build these digital environments with the invisible technology of the forthcoming century. The role of intelligent algorithms in this respect is apparent because it is the key enabling factor for realizing natural interaction.
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