Generally, embedded systems are dedicated to specific tasks, while general-purpose computers can be used for a variety of functions. In either case, the systems are vital for our everyday functioning.
Government Computer News, 15 December 2008 reports that “thanks to the plummeting cost of microprocessors, computing…now happens in automobiles, Global Positioning Systems, identification cards and even outer space.
The challenge with embedded systems are that they “must operate on limited resources—small processors, tiny memory and low power.”
Rob Oshana, director of engineering at Freescale Semiconductor says that “With embedded it’s about doing as much as you can with as little as you can.”
What’s new—haven’t we had systems embedded in automobiles for years?
“Although originally designed for interacting with the real world, such systems are increasingly feeding information into larger information systems,” according to Wayne Wolf, chair of embedded computing systems at Georgia Institute of Technology.
According to Wolf, “What we are starting to see now is [the emergence] of what the National Science Foundation is called cyber-physical systems.”
In other words, embedded systems are used for command and control or information capture in the physical domain (like in a car or medical imaging machine), but then they can also share information over a network with others (think OnStar or remote medical services).
When the information is shared from the car to the Onstar service center, information about an accident can be turned into dispatch of life-saving responders. Similarly, when scans from a battlefield MRI is shared with medical service providers back in the States, quality medical services can be provided, when necessary, from thousands of miles away.
As we should hopefully have all come to learn after 9-11, information hoarding is faux power. But when information is shared, the power is real because it can be received and used by others and others, so that its influence is exponential.
Think for example, of the Mars Rover, which has embedded systems for capturing environmental samples. Left alone, the information is contained to a physical device millions of miles away, but sharing the information back to remote tracking stations here on Earth, the information can be analyzed, shared, studied, and so forth with almost endless possibilities for ongoing learning and growth.
The world has changed from embedded systems to a universe of connected systems.
Think distributed computing and the internet. With distributed computing, we are silos or separate domains of information, but by connecting the islands of information using the internet for example, we can all harness the vast amounts of information out there and in turn process it within our own lives and contribute back information to others.
The connection and sharing is our strength.
In the intelligence world, information is often referred to as dots, and it is the connection of the dots that make for viable and actionable intelligence.
As people, we are also proverbially just little dots in this big world of ours.
But as we have learnt with social media, we are able to grow as individuals and become more potent and more fulfilled human beings by being connected with others—we’ve gone from doing this in our limited physical geographies to a much larger population in cyberspace.
In the end, information resides in people or can be embedded in machines, but connecting the information to with other humans and machines is the true power of the information technology.