Computerised You: How Wearable Technology Will Turn Us Into Computers by Shane Richmond - Read Online
Computerised You
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From the fitness tracking Nike Fuelband to the head-mounted computer, Google Glass, wearable technology is turning our bodies into the new frontier of computing. In Computerised You, Shane Richmond considers how wearable technology could help us to lead healthier lives and make us more efficient, examines the threat to our privacy and the danger of addiction and looks to a future of computer-augmented clothing and brain implants that challenge our notions of what it means to be human.

Published: Shane Richmond on
ISBN: 9781310180040
List price: $1.99
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Computerised You - Shane Richmond

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Introduction

Wearable technology is not new. The term could be applied to things that have been around for centuries, such as wristwatches and eyeglasses. Even wearable electronics have been around for more than 40 years, as anyone who had a digital watch in the 1970s will tell you.

The latest generation of wearables are unrecognisable compared to their predecessors, however. Just as all mobile phones are becoming smartphones, so our watches and glasses will soon become ‘smart’. One day our clothes and, even our bodies, will be computerised.

The body, according to technology analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, is the next frontier for personal computing.

Fifteen million wearable gadgets were predicted to be sold in 2013, according to Juniper Research, which expects that number to reach 70 million by 2017. Market information service IHS is even more bullish, forecasting that 171 million wearable devices will ship by 2016.

To put that into perspective, more than 700 million smartphones were shipped worldwide in 2012. The IHS prediction puts wearables roughly where smartphones were in 2007, around the launch of Apple’s iPhone. And just like the early days of smartphones, these devices raise lots of questions.

Today’s wearable technology can be used hands-free and is always on, which is also true of older wearables like the wristwatch. But these new gadgets share other key attributes: they are ‘connected’, whether to the internet or a nearby smartphone; they contain sensors that make them aware of their environment; they deliver or collect information in a less distracting way than the technology they replace; and they can expand their capabilities with custom applications or an internet service.

The falling price and shrinking size of computer components, sensors and batteries are driving the current wearables trend. It has become affordable and technically feasible to build a motion-sensing wristband for tracking fitness or to squeeze a multi-purpose computer into a pair of glasses. These devices are made still more powerful by the computing might of our smartphones and the power of the ‘cloud’, the vast computer network that can store, analyse and process our data and deliver information to us in an instant thanks to the near ubiquitous connectivity offered by mobile networks and WiFi.

Two kinds of wearable: Inside-out and Outside-in

Wearable technology is being used, in the broadest sense, in two ways. The first I call ‘Inside-out’. These devices are mostly sensors, worn on the body, that gather information about the wearer. They can monitor our movement, heart rate, how much we sweat, detect impact and even determine whether we have good posture. When backed by the right services, they can offer advice to help us become healthier.

The second type of wearable is the ‘Outside-in’ device. These are mostly communications gadgets but instead of being desktop, laptop or handheld, they are worn on the body - on the wrist, the ear or the eye. They connect to the network to deliver text and voice messages, directions, the location of friends and colleagues, and reference information. They collect data from outside and deliver it to us in less intrusive, less distracting ways than current technology.

Why do we want them?

It’s reasonably certain that if you aren’t already using wearables, then at some point in the next few years you will start. One reason is their usefulness: they take small tasks that we do many times a day and make them quicker and less distracting.

The average person checks their phone 23 times a day just for messaging, according to research by the TomiAhonen Almanac and analyst Mary Meeker. On top of that are a further 22 checks for voice calls, 18 times to see what time it is, 13 times for music and… well I think you get the point.

Jennifer Darmour, an interaction design expert who has worked for major companies including Nike and Microsoft, says: People are becoming used to the idea of always being connected, always having access to data, having instant feedback, etc. They’re longing for better experiences that are less bulky or disruptive, and more integrated into their lifestyle.

Wearable technology can help us to become healthier by making it easy to monitor our bodies and our activity levels. Health experts, including the World Health Organisation, the British National Health Service and the American Surgeon General, recommend approximately 10,000 steps per day as being the ideal for a healthy lifestyle.

A 2007 Stanford University study found that people who used a pedometer to track their daily number