Networked Environments

One of the basic features of today's information society is permanent networking. Wherever we go, we are connected to invisible data networks. Information and communication technologies influence social, economic and political structures.

Networked environments, a term that sounds so abstract and yet it is a fundamental element of our everyday life and our environment. Whether in medicine, the energy sector, transport and the security sector, autonomous computer systems are already being used in order to assist human activity or to influence behaviour. Concepts such as pervasive computing or ambient intelligence, which are used above all in mobile information technologies, are taking on concrete form.

Fewer and fewer borders between online and offline

Networked technologies and trends such as mobile computing are increasingly blurring the border between the online and the offline. Data that was once processed locally is now outsourced to the cloud by means of distributed systems. Developments in the wake of Web 2.0, in particular social network sites such as Facebook and the like, are changing the way we interact with each other and the way knowledge is produced. Autonomous software agents collect and interconnect user data in order to improve the interpretation of the way people interact with computers. The aim is to create what is known as the Semantic Web by analysing both the data from search machine enquiries and communication in digital social networks.

The risk of the loss of autonomy

These developments lead to a wide variety of opportunities to increase human abilities and to create new services for networking knowledge. However, they also involve new risks; for instance, self-controlled systems acting in the background may result in us losing our autonomy and becoming dependent on technology. There is also a threat to privacy or the risk of our personal behaviour changing as a consequence of the extensive networks that surround us.

The ITA is observing these developments; a number of its projects analyse the effects of permanent networking on society:

Children are already using digital networks

Selected projects related to Networked Environments