The Future Of is not just about technology: I want to explore European views and the wider shifts in culture that new gadgets wreak. There are dozens of American technology podcasts full of the Bay Area or the latest round of Technology versus Law up on the Hill. I don’t give much of a shit about San Francisco and I’m sick to death of arguments about the NSA. I’m European and the NSA spy on Europe, discussion done, next topic.
The podcast is fun. It is great to dive into subjects close to my own heart. I love to flesh out my ideas, to have Paul challenge me when I say something stupid, and for pair of us learn along the way.
Today was our third session and second podcast recording, on the topic of wearable technology. We introduced modern wearables of as a logical extension of your smartphone. It’s always within arm’s reach, on your desk, in your pocket or under your pillow. Wearable devices present a digest of notifications if you have an active social life. They record your biometrics when you work out and help you to chart your progression over time. Wearables have a long history (they were around in 1876!), and are a staple of science fiction. I can name a dozen science fiction worlds where wrist computers are an everyday staple. Three off the topic my head there are Neuromancer, Snow Crash and The Expanse.
Joshua Csucker, an organic chemistry researcher in Zurich joined us. Josh works with flexible OLEDs, and his goal is to make OLEDs smaller and cheaper and smaller and cheaper. He talks about the day when they’ll be woven into your clothes. This exists today. Josh’s goal is more specific: imagine a touch screen woven into the cuff of your jacket that networks with the phone in your pocket.
As Paul and Josh describe it, the paying public want the smartphone experience combined with modern watch battery life, and they want it strapped to their arms. That they have to take off that same wearable every other day to charge kills off any expected convenience.
Energy density is one crux of the problem. There is only so much power that can you can store in a battery small enough to fit in a wristwatch. This is a zero-sum problem that a lot of bright minds are trying to tackle right now. Josh’s angle is more efficient OLED screens. If you can’t have more energy in, then try for less energy out.
I played the straight man to Paul and Joshua’s advocates. I’m always worried about privacy, body privacy in particular. Most European countries-including Ireland-limit the disclosure of personal medical information. In short, if you are a third party then you don’t get it. But now there are a bunch of fitness startups who encourage the disclosure just this information. ‘Give up your body’ they cry as they run off back to America with your intimates. Verbatim from MyFitnessPal:
You assume all risks arising…you agree that MyFitnessPal and its affiliates, partners, suppliers and licensors are not responsible or liable for any loss or result of the presence of information about or links to such advertisers or service providers.
Josh and Paul put forward what they want from wearables. Paul, as a medical researcher, advances always-on health monitoring in high risk patients. Josh envisions intelligent clothing, like safety vests for cyclists that flash up turn signals. Together they laid out a series of use cases that I don’t fit into as an introverted Luddite.
Their argument is that wearables aren’t a solution to problems in today’s paradigm, but instead a whole new paradigm of themselves. Think of a problem as a product of starting conditions. You can change conditions enough that their byproduct-problems disappear. Think about Google: before Google came along we had to remember voluminous information. It took time to look up references, filter bad information and parse documentation. Now Google does this for us. Today’s important skill is to know what questions to ask of the oracle. We haven’t gotten any less stupid because of Google; it’s Google who’ve gifted us the freedom to work in new ways.
The podcast should be up by the end of the month!