Yes, but Would You Want to Wear It
With all the talk of wearable tech, you could be forgiven for thinking that fashion week had merged with CES. Until you looked at some of it, at least. Form follows function sounds grand when one is pointing at the elevation of the new building you’re developing. It’s less appealing in reference to something that’s going to reside on your face. A few clever folks have tumbled to that and are figuring out what people will wear with pride and only then working out how to cram all the tech in there.
Fashion quibbles aside, wearable tech is booming. Fitness wearables alone are on track to crest $1 billion in market size in 2014. The quantified self is no longer an abstraction, but we’ve got to figure out how to irrigate our lives with this data stream. Better, more contextual recommendations is the stock answer, the one on every tech thinker’s talking points, but the cool stuff happens when the friction between the data streams is washed away. Wearable tech prompts modified behavior. Data, as Mark McClusky of Wired maintains, is one of the few things that will reliably push us to change. We’re voluntarily submitting ourselves to monitoring and behavior modification. And isn’t changing behaviors exactly what advertising is all about? We’ve got a place in this world, but we had better tread lightly. This is intimate territory.
Integrated data streams is exactly what Ford is working on. They’re looking at wearable tech as a means to monitor what Gary Strumolo from Ford called, “driver workload.” With enough biometric data, the car could decide whether or not to put through an incoming call, for example, based on how much current and cumulative driving stress you’re under. Or, for people with diabetes, the car could connect with continuous glucose sensors to prompt the driver to attend to his blood sugar before he becomes unsafe behind the wheel. How about not being behind the wheel at all? Audi’s piloted drive, introduced last year, has shrunk to a chipset the size of an iPad. Google’s racked up tens of thousands of miles without a major accident in it’s self-driving cars. The autonomous vehicle is being buzzed about even if it’s still quite a way off, but the rest of the automotive tech is here right now. It’s made the automobile the largest and most complex piece of mobile technology we have, and, as Rupert Stadler of Audi said, it moves the car company from “refining the auto to redefining mobility.”
Internet Almost Everywhere
Cisco told us that the internet is everywhere. Everywhere except at CES, that is, where a solid signal was rare, even when you cough up a Benjamin for the premium shi*t. The grand promise of the internet of things depends on uninterrupted connectivity. So, yikes? Still, as everyone who was not an ISP or telco maintained, internet everywhere isn’t about connectivity. It’s about the systems that tie it all together to create a seamlessly personalized and incredibly unsettling world. Skepticism aside, there is real value in systems that eliminate the allergy to interoperability that so much of our connected tech suffers from—so long as these systems converge data in a way that benefits the end-user. Which means, as John Chambers puts it, “just in time data to just in time arrival to just in time to the right device to allow the person or machine to make the right decision.” If that happens and we really do eliminate the middlewearman, then Chamber’s bold prediction—that the internet will be five to ten times more influential than it is today—just might come true. When (let’s be optimistic) that happens, we’ll reap a global $19 trillion to the public and private sector in additional profit and savings from internet everywhere’s increased efficiency.
Making Sense of the Chaos
Done right (which means, in Cisco’s argot, that IT is “simple, fast, seamless, and smart”), the internet of things will ease our path in the world, allowing us to shop for clothes without agony or find a movie on Netflix without a feature-length decision making process. Until then, we’re stuck with today’s chaos. The user experience still lags behind the underlying capability of the tech. As content proliferates, our systems for curating and discovering what’s worth our time haven’t kept up. Brands can help. As Keith Weed of Unilever said, we erect filters to keep out the barrage of messages headed our way every second. “Brands,” he continued, “depend on breaking through that.” They break through to us not to interrupt our passage but rather to simplify our path. At their best, they “engage us with content we value and help us make our way through the welter of fragmentation we confront.”