Wearable Computers – The Sixth Sense?

People like to do as little work as possible for the most gains. The mobile era has helped facilitate that, but current mobile devices have their limitations in interactivity and productivity.
This is where new advances will help; the new advances that can help that are coming through research centres now (and have been for a while) is the idea of wearable computers.

How can these mitigate mobile device use problems while keeping productivity high? Well, the most obvious is the evolution of personal assistants such as Vlingo, Google Now and Siri. Having something like Google Glass or an iWatch means that notifications are more easily accessible than pulling out your phone and that it is quicker to interact using voice on a device that is always listening. This sounds technically good, but I think these devices don’t go far enough. If using these devices becomes essential to your workflow you now have two points for battery failure – two devices that need to be kept charged, plus all the problems currently with voice recognition – namely background noise and accents.

This is where piezoelectric devices can come in, or even organic implants. These devices harness power from your movement or your body to power sensors. This can help mitigate power consumption and battery life for a small device that offloads most of the ‘brains’ to a bigger device (your phone).

So power can be solved theoretically, but implants don’t have to stop the magic there, recently scientists have been able to enable a mouse to ‘feel’ infrared light by hooking a sensor into it’s brain in the area responsible for its whiskers. In fact there are a few people working on ‘body hacking’ giving new abilities and enhancing the ones we have. These can all be tied into a wearable computer that will enable computers to have unprecedented knowledge of us, and unprecedented knowledge of our surroundings.

Knowledge is power, and as anyone who knows anything about companies like facebook and Google know, knowledge is money. Of course, with all this extra knowledge available would be a goldmine they would be eager to get a hold of. This is in a sense a good thing, as it means these companies are keen to spend gobs of money on getting these things to market so they can exploit it. The main issue would be controlling what we let them know, which is something that the latest operating systems seem to be very incompetent at. For the power to remain in the user’s hands these wearable sensor hubs will need to have strict connectivity rules to disallow any remote control. The hub would mainly send data and control to your phone. Limiting these features allows for greater security, besides, your phone is already an established platform that can handle interaction with the outside world much better.

The future I see for wearable devices is not as a ‘remote screen’ like a watch or pair of glasses, but a hub of sensors which can include many input and output devices. Security needs to be a concern in this phase, the development, the research. We have history to show a list of reasons why.


4 thoughts on “Wearable Computers – The Sixth Sense?

  1. Interesting pov, I agree because I would like to eventually have an implant that can pass information back to a hub (phone). Information like body vitals from sensors.. the health factors alone make it a worthy device. For example “Warning: Low hydration levels”.
    The other awesome area is identification.. I no longer want to carry my wallet with me anywhere… there would be an API where developers can build identification for all sorts of things like payments, loyalty cards and drivers licences etc… but damn… you can see issues come up straight away like governments knowing who you are and tracking your exact whereabouts making it seems like a bad idea.

    • Yeah, that is where security built in right from the get go would be essential to keep privacy and disallow snooping. That is why I propose that it only connects to a phone or other personal device so that you can control what your phone sees and also what sees it on your phone.

      The medical side was what I was thinking about when I wrote this mainly – along with the cool stuff like infra-red view and in-brain notifications. Instead of your phone alarm notfiying you of something it would happen as a natural thought. ‘Oh, I had an appointment at 9 today’. Sounds a bit creepy for now, but I hope we can get to a point where it is possible and has reasonable assumption of ethical use by third parties.

      You could have nano-scale sensors which check for signs of several diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and iirc, some mental disorders manifest in a chemical/hormonal way.

  2. I’m not keen on having anything implanted in me that isn’t directly related to health – partly because the risk potential is so high while the benefits are unclear. Others will feel differently about this.

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