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by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright May 2016
In the 2010's wearables are devices that you can put on your body that monitor bodily functions such as blood pressure, breathing and motion. They are of interest mostly to exercise and good health enthusiasts, but are also useful in a few health care applications.
This is just the beginning.
I envision the range of tasks wearables can be used for as growing enormously as technological improvements let wearables measure many more different bodily functions, and not much later, control them.
This change in what wearables can do between now and the 2050's is the topic of this essay.
Wearables in this essay are not the same as nanotech -- really small, cell-size, machines that float around inside the body. (At this stage nanotech is too hard to define and characterize -- it's too much like pure magic -- so not part of this discussion.) Wearables are large enough to be tangible, touchable objects. They can be both outside and inside the body. The inside parts can be close to what it being monitored and they will report to outside parts, which will then report to whatever hierarchy of monitoring systems are keeping track of this person's body condition.
Wearables, like all other ground-breaking high tech, are going to evolve steadily. So keep in mind that there are going to be early-stage wearables and later-stage wearables and they will be very different -- think of the many differences between an Apple II and an iPad.
The early wearables will be bulky and concerned mostly with monitoring. The variety of what is monitored will grow steadily with time. Big breakthroughs will happen when parts of the monitoring system can be inserted into the body on a long-term basis. If they are just skin-deep this makes blood monitoring much easier and more versatile. If they can be lodged in organs that are deeper in the body then those organs can be monitored, both with more precision and more versatility.
The decisive later stage capability is adding adjusting internal conditions to simply monitoring them. As with the monitoring, this will start with a few simple items, then get more diverse and subtle as understanding and technology improve. An example of adjusting that is likely to be implemented in the early adjusting stages would be controlling blood sugar levels in diabetics.
We have talked about what wearables can do. Now let's look at how they will change our lifestyles.
The commodity uses are going to be helping health and maintaining better awareness of the body's condition in general. With time what is monitored is going to get more varied and more nuanced. This will make keeping good health easier and easier. There will be fewer surprises, fewer scary crises.
It will also lead to smart nagging and shaming. This will evolve from the general-style of nagging and shaming that is already routinely engaged in by health insurance companies of the 2010's -- they send out lots of letters and robocalls about good health rituals a customer should be engaging in.
With wearables the nagging and shaming can get much more directed, specific and real time. An example: you are sitting at a restaurant with a hot date, and while you are gazing into those dreamy eyes across the table, you are getting a hint through your internal communication system, "If you eat that second helping of kale, you'll be three more pounds overweight and it will take two days of jogging to work it off."
One of the big surprise uses for advanced wearables is going to be mind altering. The more wearables can adjust hormones and the involuntary nervous system signals the more they can adjust emotions. If you see something scary, but don't get a surge of adrenalin because your wearables are suppressing it, will you feel scared?
Here is a more socially significant example: A person gets drunk because alcohol is affecting the brain. If a wearable can affect the brain in a similar way, it can get a person drunk too.
The big difference between wearables and chemicals is that ultimately -- when they get advanced -- wearables can change their effects a lot faster and be a lot more wide-ranging and subtle in their effects. If wearables are causing the drunkenness a person can sober up in minutes, not hours. And how they feel drunk can be adjusted -- it can have flavors.
As an example, a college student at a raucous frat party can be drinking water and getting ploughed out their mind as the night goes on. Whoopee!! Then when party-is-over time comes they can sober up in about ten minutes... while they are walking back to the dorm or being driven home in the driverless car they called for... and get in an hour of homework for the next day's classes before they call it a night. Quite a difference in lifestyle.
And that is just a first-generation use of mind altering.
An example of something 2nd generation and subtler would be helping people overcome their fear of flying. When most of the people who have to fly are no longer scared of flying, commercial air transportation systems can get a lot more practical and a lot less ritualized. The first high-profile change would be transforming the TSA away from the neoreligious ritual it is in the 2010's into something much lower profile and much more effective. Another change would be letting airports get smaller and more dispersed so there was a lot less congestion.
As the wearables get into their third generation capabilities, all human activities that are partly emotion driven can be transformed -- gut feelings of all sorts can be controlled.
Quite a change.
As wearables develop and become widespread in society they are going to transform how people live in dramatic ways. Their commodity use is going to be improving health. Their first surprise use is going to be letting people indulge in high tech mind altering -- high tech getting drunk and high. Their second surprise use is going to be controlling emotions. They are going to let people control what they are fearful of, and what they love.
The world of wearables is going to be as different from 2010's living as Agricultural Age living is from Industrial Age living.
Lots of big changes are coming.
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