The Inescapability of Ambient Computing

Always-listening, always-watching computers want to help—maybe too much

3 min read
The Inescapability of Ambient Computing
Illustration: Greg Mably

The word ambient began its english career innocently enough, as a form of the Latin verb ambire, “to go around,” and writers used it to describe something that was lying around or encircling something else. By the end of the 17th century, the meaning of ambienthad expanded, so to speak, to describe anything that completely surrounded or circumfused an area or volume, as in the ambient air or ambient light. By the middle of the 20th century, audio engineers spoke of ambient sound (the atmospheric sounds in a particular area, particularly background noise picked up by a microphone), and by the late 1970s audio listeners spoke of ambient music (music that aimed to invoke a particular mood or atmosphere).

That might have been it for a solid but unremarkable word. But modern technologists and futurists have continued to give ambient new duties in a world where information and interfaces are everywhere.

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An IBM Quantum Computer Will Soon Pass the 1,000-Qubit Mark

The Condor processor is just one quantum-computing advance slated for 2023

4 min read
This photo shows a woman working on a piece of apparatus that is suspended from the ceiling of the laboratory.

A researcher at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center examines some of the quantum hardware being constructed there.

Connie Zhou/IBM

IBM’s Condor, the world’s first universal quantum computer with more than 1,000 qubits, is set to debut in 2023. The year is also expected to see IBM launch Heron, the first of a new flock of modular quantum processors that the company says may help it produce quantum computers with more than 4,000 qubits by 2025.

This article is part of our special report Top Tech 2023.

While quantum computers can, in theory, quickly find answers to problems that classical computers would take eons to solve, today’s quantum hardware is still short on qubits, limiting its usefulness. Entanglement and other quantum states necessary for quantum computation are infamously fragile, being susceptible to heat and other disturbances, which makes scaling up the number of qubits a huge technical challenge.

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