Insights from the Sci-Fi Community on Wearables
By John Blyler, Chief Content Officer
Several recent interviews with technical experts about trends in wearable technology made me wonder how sci-fi writers might envision the future.
Just for fun, I asked the Sci-Fi community for their thoughts on the future of wearable technology. The responses ranged from the far-out to the retro and from the quirky to the deeply insightful. The only problem was that I couldn’t resist adding to their comments. Perhaps you’ll find it equally difficult to withhold your own opinions? – JB
Walter Knight, “America’s Galactic Foreign Legion” series: The most obvious wearable technology I’ve explored in my “America’s Galactic Foreign Legion” science fiction series is the helmet camera, a reality now. Soldiers, police officers, security guards, etc wear the cameras at work. Soon, everyone will be wearing these cameras on errands and vacations. We’ve already seen many news reports showing biker helmet cameras and dash camera.
Privacy concerns are now focused on those the cameras encounter and government intrusion. But I’m more concerned with the privacy of the wearer of the camera. What if an employer insists all employees wear the cameras? Will your union go along with that? What about bathroom breaks? Cheating at work? Picking your nose and flatulence? Political correctness? It all gets recorded. Fortunately, there is a low-tech solution if this scenario becomes reality. Duct tape over the camera lens. Ha! Another use for duct tape!
Response from JB: Don’t forget your sentient ATM! That’s sort-of wearable from the perspective of the robot.
Jonathan Howard, Author of the Johannes Cabal, Russalka Chronicles, & Goon Squad series: I can’t honestly say it’s (wearable technology) anything I’ve ever given much thought to, although whoever invents heat-sensitive cloth that moderates its insulating qualities depending on the temperature of the wearer will do very well.
Response from JB: Here’s a bizarre example of a thermal clothing app. It might spark a new product line, e.g., liver damage for drinkers, heart trouble for overweight, “I’m lying” for – well, you get it.
The following inputs were provided by the members of the LinkedIn Science Fiction group:
Tracy Shew, Software Development Engineer at Microsoft: Portable lie detectors for the criminally insane. You cannot remove these, like the ankle location detectors we have now for parolees. They measure skin galvanic response, blood pressure, etc., and sound an audible alarm when you attempt to lie. (A plot device in my short, “The Pinocchio Device,” but you are welcomed to it.)
Tom Huber, Retired: The most significant is the personal “net” that changes the visual appearance of the wearer. This technology is far beyond any technology we have today, but it is still something that shows up in SF from time to time. The same device can be used to alter the voice of the wearer. Another device is the portable / wearable universal translator. It simply provided a translation of a spoken language into the language of the wearer. In addition, it could be used to provide the wearer’s spoken language back into the foreign tongue.
Response from JB: Babel-fish?
Mirjam Maclean, Independent Writer at N Titi Publishing: Magnetic footwear so that wearers could easily scale vertical walls or jump like George Jetson. And earphones that can echolocate to accurately identifying the location and size of nearby objects.
Jeroen de Wij, Application Manager at Eperium Business Solutions: We will conceivably soon en masse be wearing Google Glasses (and the Apple/Samsung/Motorola/etc alternatives) furthering the always-online world. It won’t be a big leap towards mics worn on a scarf (or even sub dermal) to allow sub-vocalized commands to be sent to devices without being overheard. Earrings/studs/clips to act as small loudspeakers. Some kind of wearable medical technology is imminent, many that has gather press of late appear to be hoaxes but a good (e.g. wrist-) wearable blood pressure and -sugar monitor would seem to be on the near horizon. — Jeroen de Wij, Application Manager at Eperium Business Solutions
Terry Jackman, Writer, Editor, Reviewer, Speaker, Tutor, Orbit Coordinator at British Science Fiction Association: Camo-suits that ‘hide’ us by mimicking the background, and of course those gloves that operate virtual reality that the flim-makers love. Future wearables might also include clear, flexible breathing masks and faceplates. But not all future wearables might be wearable. For example, I had one instance of far-future government offices reverting to paper messages because nothing else was more secure any longer – the note could be so much more easily kept from sight and/or destroyed than anything hitech – Terry Jackman, Writer, Editor, Reviewer, Speaker, Tutor, Orbit Coordinator at British Science Fiction Association
Suzanna Stinnett, Developmental Editing: In my work-in-progress, set 75 yrs in the future, a herd of 19 year olds are applying for a space program. A calamity between now and then has slowed the advancement of tech in most sectors, but wearable tech was in place before the “Confluence.” The kids are using wearable tech exclusively, meaning they dislike any physical embedding of tech — they’re over it. The soft wristband is ubiquitous, among other ages as well. They also wear bracelets, necklaces and earrings delivering audio and holographic formats. Phones, projected screens, music and data can all be delivered in soft, wearable form. Some wear an adhesive arm patch. The tech is highly interactive, intrusively so. It is activated mainly by a finger swipe, but some kids use a puff of breath to activate. Many of them also have holographic desktop devices, meaning the visual is projected and interacted with holographically.
Steve Hann, Owner at BB&H: In an unpublished satire from 15 years ago, I included tee-shirts that featured tiny LCD bulbs and a belt worn typewriter much like today’s cell phones. People were able to type out messages, and the core idea included built in censorship. If I knew then what I know now…!
I’m not sure you would call it wearable, but I see further advances in the technology that exists now for a micro-chip within the body which has your personal medical record on it. Should you get in an accident anywhere in the world, your complete medical record will be available. Although this technology exists today (for animals), it is extremely expensive and probably not covered by the average insurance company. Further, the average person may feel it as an invasion of privacy and their body. – Cherune Clewley, author, poet and musican
Response from JB: Perhaps a variation on this theme would be DNA or a chromosomal string coded with the person’s medical information. On the other hand, ARM does have a “Well Cow” bolus wireless stomach monitor.
Richard Levine, Software, Education, Science Fiction Writer: Animated tattoos – They’d probably be banned in the NBA, but I would think they’d be pretty popular among celebrities and people wanting to make a statement. I even included one in my time travel short story, “The Time of Your Life” (published Raygun Revival Magazine 2007, issue #15).
Geoff Swift, Materials Scientist/Freelance Writer: Clothing that can purify sweat and urine and store clean water for drinking in survival situations (minimal, sure, but you’re just losing the water anyway). Piezoelectric chargers in one’s shoes so that every step helps recharge other devices. Filter masks that detect and sound an alarm when various hazardous substances (asbestos, toxic mold, viruses, etc) are present. Should be especially useful for miners, construction/demolition workers, firefighters, and others. Contact (or implantable) lenses that allow wearer to see infrared for night vision operations (e.g., military).
Allynn Riggs, Owner and lead writer at TimberDark Publications: In my scifi/fantasy series, I have an implanted “bio-teacher” which supplies full language translation (written & verbal), encyclopedia, etc., for times when travelers are on a different planet. The “bio-teacher” is able to learn and adjust its translations the longer the person wearing the device is in contact with the new language – i.e. hearing it being spoken by natives.
Response from JB: Speech recognition, aside from translation, always requires some hefty processing power. But if the implant could connect to the brain and thus benefit from the carbon-based processing, that might significantly lessen the processing needs for the implant.
Ariel Winterbreucke, Independent Publishing Professional: I fear anything I might add would already be in the works or terribly obsolete. The technology is now racing the imagination to the goal line. My idea of the Apple Slice®, which would present your virtual office in 3D through regular Rx eyeglasses and enable you to mime your way through work sitting in a waiting room chair already feels like “oh, yeah, you just spun off GoogleGlass®”. After I told a friend about the earpiece phone in “Minority Report”, he was talking about how his company was just working on that. I’m already into telepathy via telephony, a la the Cerebral Communicators from “The President’s Analyst”. And yet I feel I’ve fallen behind. My defense against changing tech has been to go retro, so maybe this will apply to future tech as well. I can imagine the 1940s being cool again. PCs will hide in pocket watches and it will be cool to use a manual typewriter again, regardless of what it’s really hooked up to. And I’d wear my Apple Slice® with the round Harry Potter lenses riding downtown on the A train, but I’d still keep a pen and regular paper around because I am, after all, an artist. – Ariel Winterbreucke, Independent Publishing Professional
Jennifer Condron-Gold, writer and freelancers: What about a device, cell phone that has the ability to act as an emergency defibrillator for someone in need. Super capacitor?
Response from JB: That could be a real life saver, but the power storage requirement would make it a ticking time-bomb. Maybe it could draw power wirelessly from the surroundings, like a Telsa coil? “Tesla’s Lost Lab Recalls Promise Of Wireless Power”
Thadd Evans, Science Fiction writer. Epublished by Devine Destines and Extasy Books: In one of my ebooks, someone places a tiny cell phone like device underneath a detective’s skin. As a result, he can see text and numbers on his field of vision, somewhat like a Terminator. -
Response from JB: Imec, the nanotechnology center in Belgium, has created working prototypes of Google Glass-like wearable contact lens.
Ken Hart, Retired and Writing: For all the technological wonder and usefulness, has anyone considered the dangers inherent with such devices. Liberty and privacy would be lost through tracking transceivers addable to such devices. It’s already happened evidenced by the Wiki-Leaks debacle, and the cell phones you carry. Current and implantable aspects of such devices begs an analogy of becoming Star Trek Borgs.
Response from JB: Perhaps the greater danger is that the tracking organizations (governments) will acquire bad, unverified data from such devices. Just talk to anyone who has mistakenly be placed on the TSA’s naughty list.
Jonathan McGoran, Author at Tor/Forge: Most common ideas of wearable tech are so close on the horizon, they’re just about here. Google is already talking about implants within the next decade. There are also interfaces that are not implanted, but still essentially “thought controlled,” which is a type of wearable tech. Another type of wearable tech, though, is nano-tech, which could change color and texture, or insulating, waterproofing or other capabilities. Add that to the intelligent computer implants, and you have garments that the wearer can drastically alter, while wearing, at the thinking of a thought. -
Response from JB: A very simplistic commercial version of thought control is the “Necomimi” brain-wave cat ears from NeuralSky
Elton Charles Wright, Aerospace Assembly Mechanic: A bracelet that a homeless person could opt into wearing that would get them a bus ride to the nearest place of shelter. A counter idea is an app for a homeless person to locate a place to sleep, but this idea made a lot of assumptions about what a homeless person could afford in technology. Another application might be a hiking poncho that is a solar power supply. You could spread it, use it for a tarp, wear it over the pack to collect power for the gadgets you are carrying, cell/ham/satellite/GPS communicator, a power supply for electric heat/cooking device, and a compatible power tent made of the same power fabric.