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Prologue  Title:
 AmI: science fiction or unfolding reality?


Ambient intelligence Space example: The Smart Home


Ambient Intelligence (AmI) aims at enriching the quality of the everyday experience and places human beings at the centre of the future development of the knowledge-based society and Information and Communication Technologies. Thus, the AmI vision is based on a user-driven approach and encompasses three main technologies: ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous communication and intelligent user interface, with a view to delivering seamless applications and services to citizens. The user’s context is an indispensable component of this approach taking into account the needs of the user by responding in an appropriate way (personalisation).  

Profiling activity consists of extracting useful information from a current context related to the user, identifying the users’ needs and selecting suitable services in order to enable that the smart home behaves according to the users’ preferences, actions and expectations. Consequently, profiling activity is essential to achieve an aware, adaptive and responsive environment, in turn, to meet the user needs and wishes.  

In the next section, we will first introduce and describe the Smart Home regarded as a private AmI environment. We will also study the profiling activity in AmI space and will introduce topics such as feasibility examined from a specific point of view dealing with social, technical and legal aspects. Additionally, we shall consider user control, or more precisely the conflict between profiling activity and user control and the necessity to use Intelligent Agents to regulate such conflict. Because profiling involves the communication and exchange of a user’s personal data and their storage, we will also indicate some of the security and privacy concerns involved.

The Smart Home: Elements and Services

AmI in the home environment, known as the ‘Smart Home’, aims to integrate the systems and technologies developed to run the household for improved management of the home environment. The Smart Home is equipped with surrounding technologies used to turn devices and appliances on and off or to send and receive information. 

describes the different elements of the Smart Home. The internal infrastructures are essentially composed of interoperable terminals and the internal network. The residential gateway plays an important role as the interface between internal and external infrastructures and to services of operators.



ISDN: Integrated Services Digital Network

PSTN: Public Switched Telephone Network 


Figure : Elements of the Smart Home infrastructure


The smart home services can be categorised into four groups, detailed in :

  1. Communication Services 

  2. Home Control and Automation 

  3. Entertainment 

  4. Home Networking 


The Smart Home has to behave automatically according to the user’s preferences and expectations. In order to achieve this objective, profiling activity has to be implemented. 



Figure : Smart Home Services

Profiling activity

One of the main objectives of AmI is to meet the user’s needs; profiling activity is thus required. Profiling activity for this purpose is a continuous background activity; it includes extracting useful information from a user and his/her current context (for example user location, user behaviour, room temperature), enabling the identification of the user’s needs, selecting suitable services and adjusting the parameters of the selected services in order to allow the AmI environment to behave according to the users’ preferences, actions and expectations. Consequently, profiling activity is essential to achieve an aware, adaptive and responsive environment, and thus, to meet user needs and preferences. Hence, if profiling does not work adequately, the vision of AmI may never be realised. Profiling activity is depicted in the schema below (see ).


Some elements (see the blue rounded rectangles) are concrete elements and are closely related to profiling activity. The other elements (pink rectangles) are spatial elements, particularly relevant to the AmI space. They make the collection of useful data for the profiling activity easier (environmental awareness aspect) and help to transmit/apply the results of profiling (responsive aspect) in a suitable way (adaptive aspect). The key technologies mentioned above play an important role in this activity: ubiquitous computing and communication support the tasks related to the two first aspects and intelligent user interfaces allow the achievement of the last one. 


Figure : Schematic view of profiling activity in the AmI environment


For the purpose of this example we understand a profile as a set of correlated data that identify and represent attributes, behaviour and rules of engagement, either of the end-user or of the service provider. 

The end-user profile includes the user’s “identity” (it may only be necessary to get an identifier or to use an identification mode), and his/her inferred needs and preferences.

The service profile describes the parameters of the service, the operational requirements and the availability of the service.

Multi-user environment

Difficulties may arise when the preferences and/or requirements of the several users that are present are contradictory or overlapping. The Smart Home is an example of a multi-user environment, and profiling activity has to resolve such conflicts. For example a conflict over the use of shared resources is quite common, i.e. sharing of facilities or services between different users such as one TV in a home. One solution is to merge profiles to concurrently respond to the users or to direct a specific environment/material/facility to the users depending on priorities established during the merging process. 

Security and privacy concerns

Profiling activity thus involves the proliferation of communications, exchanges of personal user data, and identity information, and their storage by means of numerous types of technologies, sensors and devices. Therefore, security and privacy concerns arise when profiling activity is carried out. In the case of the Smart Home, the home network is regarded as the means used to communicate the profiling information. Ideally, profiling activity requires continuous monitoring or surveillance of the users. The use of sensors is crucial since they make it possible for example to detect that a person is entering a room or an object is being moved, etc. In the case of a video camera, this sensor may be perceived as invasive, since it is possible to identify and store who entered or who moved the object.  

If such monitoring is used in a particularly private space such as a bathroom, users may feel this activity is an unacceptable intrusion. In any case, such monitoring and surveillance may erode privacy and since large amounts of data may be stored, fears about personal data theft arises. As such, Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) like Identity Management Systems (IMS, type 1, cf. FIDIS deliverable D3.1) should be developed to protect the users against this threat. It should be noted that this monitoring could be worthwhile for medical purposes, to ensure medication is taken, or to assess the current condition of the user. In any case, in the AmI vision profiling must respect the decisions and requirements of the users. Hence this space has to be equipped with mechanisms ensuring confidentiality and managing authorisation rights.  


The Ambient Intelligence space requires a continuous profiling activity. This section draws up a list of requirements for this activity by taking into account three dimensions: social, legal and technological. 


  1. From a social point of view, the Ambient Intelligence space and thus the profiling activity has to increase well-being, to ensure trust, to respect privacy and to provide safety. As previously discussed, these points are the challenges of profiling and will be discussed further in Chapter .

  1. From a legal point of view, many aspects have to be considered such as Digital Right Management (DRM) and Data Protection (DP). For instance a Mobile DRM could be described as a set of actions, procedures, policies, product properties, and tools that an entity uses to manage its rights in digital contents according to requirements over mobile networks. The legal issues will be discussed extensively in Chapter .

  1. From a technological perspective, standards and security are the pillars of AmI that need to be established. Further discussion of standards and technical infrastructure is given in Chapter .

Conflict with user control

Direct User interaction is a common way by which a user is able to control appliances, monitor their state and program various intelligence embedded appliances to for example aid with automatic data acquisition. A possible conflict may occur between profiling activity and user control. The question “what is good, beneficial profiling?” may arise (see ).


Figure : ‘Smart Appliances’: A conflict between user control and profiling activity
(Illustration by J. MacNelly)


Indeed, sometimes profiling activity (‘service to user’ or ‘environment push’) comes into conflict with user control (‘user to service’ or ‘user pull’). The objective is to find the right balance in order to minimise this type of conflict.

Profiling for online life

Generally, in a complex domain space, such as the online part of the AmI environment, it is difficult for the user to express his needs or in some cases even to know what he wants. As such, the expression of requirements is minimal or incomplete. Using an Intelligent Agent may solve part of this problem. Essentially the software of the Intelligent Agent embodies the profiling activity and supports users in decision taking, learning about the domain, creating a profile or exploring sample sets.

Intelligent Agents allow personalisation and discovery to take place at the level of the user, as the agent infers a user’s preferences from the interactions with the environment. These then do not have to rely only on data entry as a form of user interaction. 


Prologue  fidis-wp7-del7.3.ami_profiling_02.sxw  AmI: science fiction or unfolding reality?
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