IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Winter 2013 - 4

EDITORIAL

For Now We See
Through a Glass, Darkly

E

mbedded sensors provide us with a range
of conveniences that many of us take for
granted in our everyday life.
They first appeared in static items - everything from auto-flushing the common lavatory to
auto-dispensing of soap and water for handwashing.
Then these sensors - for identification, location,
condition monitoring, point-of-view and more -
were embedded in mobile objects. Our vehicles, tablets, smart phones, even contactless smart cards say a
lot about our behaviors, traits, likes and dislikes as we
lug them around with us everywhere we go.
In a way, we've become an extension of these technological breakthroughs. The devices we carry take
on a life of their own - sending binary data upstream
and downstream in the name of better connectivity,
awareness, and ambient intelligence.
But it seems we want more - or at least that is
what the tech giants are leading us to believe.
Enter wearable computers - digital glasses, watches,
headbands, armbands and other apparel that can lifelog
and record visual evidence - tell you where you are on
the Earth's surface and how to navigate to your destination, alert you of your physical condition (heart and
pulse rate monitors), and even inform you when you
are running late to catch a plane, offering rescheduling
advice. These devices are windows to others through
social networking, are bridges to storage centers, and
even on occasion are companions as they listen to your
commands and respond like a personal assistant.
For example, Google Glass, is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that acts
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MTS.2013.2286423
Date of publication: 9 December 2013

KATINA MICHAEL

on voice commands like "take a picture" and allows
you to record hands free. You can share what you see
live with your social network and it provides directions right in front of your eyes. Glass even syncs your
deadlines with speed, distance, and time data critical
to forthcoming appointments.
Google is not alone.
Microsoft was in the business of life-logging more
than a decade ago with its SenseCam device, which
has now been replaced by the Autographer. Initially
developed to help those suffering with dementia as a
memory aid, the Autographer takes a five-megapixel
picture about 2000 times a day and can be replayed
in fast-forward mode in about five minutes. It is jampacked with sensors that provide a context for the
photo including: accelerometer, light sensor, magnetometer, infra-red motion detector, and thermometer,
and also contains a GPS chipset.
The slim-line Memoto is the latest gadget to enter
the wearable space. Far less obtrusive than Glass or
Autographer, it can be pinned onto your shirt. It takes
a snap every 30 seconds, and is so lightweight that you
quickly forget you are even wearing it.
These devices make computers part of the human
interface. But what are the implications of inviting all
this technology onto the body?
what are the implications for individuals, families,
businesses and society at large, if everywhere we go
we are connected to the "web of things" and people,
and we continue to thoughtlessly and almost unconsciously leave behind intricate and intimate digital
chronicles of ourselves as we interact with the world
around us?
we seem to be producing innovations at an everincreasing rate and expect adoption to match that

This article first appeared on ABC Science Online, July 24, 2013; http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/07/
24/3809675.htm.
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IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

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wINTEr 2013


http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/07/

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