Fitness trackers have only been on the market for a relatively short time, but already the market has bogged down. It seem like every tech company around has put out a fitness tracker that basically does the same handful of functions. But it is not hard to imagine a very different future for wearables.
The next big change, which we are just starting to see, is for the wearables to become overall health monitors. Wearables ought to be able to monitor us 24/7 for heart rate, temperature, oxygen consumption, EKG, blood glucose levels and who knows what else.
This will revolutionize health care. I consider myself as someone who watches my health and yet I only go for a physical to check these kind of things once a year. It’s hard to imagine what 24 hour monitoring of our bodies might mean.
Certainly our data can be fed into monitoring programs that will alert us when anything is not normal. We might know we are coming down with a cold a day before we feel symptoms and be able to head it off. We’ll probably know days or weeks ahead of time of an impending heart attack. And constant monitoring will bring other benefits that we can’t even imagine, because nobody other than astronauts or terminally ill patients have ever been constantly monitored. So today’s simple sport watch is soon going to turn into a major health breakthrough.
But it doesn’t stop there. Just recently companies like Microsoft and Samsung have entered the market, and they and other firms are planning to open wearables to third party developers, which is going to bring a huge leap forward in functionality.
Picture a future where wearables are not just health monitors, but which also open up our readings selectively to others. The possibilities are really interesting, but also a bit scary:
- Picture video games that monitor your reactions as you play and that steps up the intensity according to your reactions to the game. Good gamers often play for the endorphin highs, but picture a game that is designed to elicit and prolong such reactions specific to the user.
- Picture opening up your biometric readings to others in a social situation, such as a party or a bar, and being able to ‘read’ how others are really reacting to you. You’ll be able to spot somebody who is really interested in you versus somebody who may just be going through the motions. I read an article that calls this a ‘love at first sight’ detector.
- Or picture clubs that only let in people who have the right kinds of readings as a way to block out people with bad intents. (Or punk clubs that only allow in people with bad intent!)
- Picture stores being able to see how your body reacts to merchandise as you shop and which can help you find what pleases you (or said more plainly will exploit your mood).
- Picture advertising that is not aimed only at you, but at you and your specific state of mind at any given time. There would be one set of ads for the happy you and another set for the sad you.
- Imagine a couple who opens up their biometrics to each other full-time and that always know how the other is really feeling. This is not telepathy, but it might come darned close. I wonder how many relationships could handle this kind of intense sharing?
- And maybe thirty years from now people will have 2010s parties where they will all turn off their monitors for a night of nostalgia of how the world was before biometric sharing.
There might be a whole new world out there for those willing to partake in this kind of openness. Perhaps the future is going to be quickly divided into those who are willing to share their physiological and emotional responses and those who won’t. One would certainly think that young people will adapt to this kind of technology faster than older people, although there is a whole generation of old hippies out there who are ready to grok you.
The societal changes that can come from this kind of technology are mind boggling. I look at the future of new technologies all of the time and many of them are really cool. Who doesn’t want a smart home that makes your life easier? Who doesn’t want a smart car that can drive itself and make getting places safer and easier? But wearables might change the way we interact with other people. That could be one of those transformational changes that fundamentally change our lives and that can drastically transform our society into something brand new. We might come to think of history as pre and post wearables.