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Interfacing eyewear? Smart sneakers? Robo-gloves? Brain 2.0?

September 17, 2014

Concept of Hand with Electronic FingerprintsThe new Apple Watch might be an exciting accessory for techies, but it’s only the tip of the technological iceberg compared to what the future has in store for consumers wanting wearable computers.

So says award-winning NIU professor David Gunkel, who specializes in the study of information and communication technology and is author of the book, “The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI, Robots and Ethics” (MIT 2012).

“In the not too distant future, the object that we once knew as the computer will be distributed across a network of devices worn on our bodies – eyeglasses that provide visual data, clothing that monitors biometric data, shoes that create electrical power with every step and gloves and jewelry that provide gestural control at our fingertips,” Gunkel says.

David Gunkel

David Gunkel

Gunkel is an NIU Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Communication. His research examines the philosophical assumptions and ethical consequences of communication technology (ICT), and he teaches courses in ICT, cyberculture and web design and programming.

Gunkel says the notion of a stationary desk-bound computer is fast becoming obsolete with the onset of Wi-Fi networks, smartphones, tablets and now smart watches. And Apple is not the only innovator. Other contenders in the smart watch market include Samsung’s Gear 2, the Fitbit fitness watch and Motorola’s Moto 360.

Wearable tech, however, is not limited by any means to timepieces.

“It also includes things like Google glass, a wearable visual display that, in effect, moves the screen of your smartphone into a stylish pair of eyeglasses; smart clothes like Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech shirts, which monitor vital signs and fitness performance; and SixthSense, an augmented reality system, developed by MIT researcher Pranav Mistry. It projects data on real-world objects and provides users with a direct gestural interface that replaces the smartphone’s touch screen.”

Book cover of David Gunkel’s “The Machine Question”So what comes after wearable tech?

Gunkel predicts the technological leap will be devices or computer interface elements that are not worn – but rather integrated into the very fabric of the body itself.

“This includes things like imaging visual data on the retina or optic nerve, feeding audio information directly into the brain and bypassing the need for headphones, or controlling applications not with hand gestures but immediately through the power of thought itself.

“Although this sounds like science fiction, there are a number of researchers and laboratories across the globe developing working prototypes of all these systems and devices. But commercialization of this next generation of wearables is still off on the horizon. So it may be some time before Apple rolls out something like Apple Eye or the I-eye.”