Enhacing our capabilities through technology
Humans have always had a fascination with enhancing our capabilities through technology. Cleopatra's scented wig - with perfume that slowly dispenses throughout the day - is often cited as the earliest example of ‘wearable tech’. Fast forward a few centuries to this enlightening (and rather hilarious) Discovery Channel extract from 1992, and unbelievably there was still a lot to be desired in terms of achieving a tech enhancement that was useful, let alone stylistically wearable! I don’t think Cleopatra would have been too taken with having a laptop strapped to her arm.
I've had the opportunity to talk to people exploring the boundaries of wearable tech and you can listen to their views in my video.
Sci-fi to real life
Science fiction has always provided an outlet for the imagination to run wild in our explorations of human potential, and writers of this genre often act as our Sherpa’s for the future. We can forget current technological capability as a limitation to potential, and focus on what we'd ideally like to achieve. As such, sic-fi has on many occasions acted as an early predictor for later innovations. Headphones were described in Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 (1953); video surveillance in George Orwell's 1894 (1949); and credit cards described in Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward (1888), to give a few examples.
Technology and imagination arriving together
Each of these inventions experienced a significant gap between literary inception and real-world execution. However, if we are to apply the same rule of thumb and rely on the opinions of our expert sci-fi futurists to provide a window into the next 20 years, amazingly their visions are already being realised. For the first time in history, I truly believe that we’ve reached a turning point where design, technology and our imaginations have arrived together in true style.
Surely one of the most exciting and desired inventions is the invisibility cloak, which of course is famously worn by JK Rowling's Harry Potter. Similarly, Queen Mary University London PHD student Berit Grienke is a specialist in the field of metamaterials; electromagnetic fabric that can bend waves in highly unusual ways. One such fabric negatively refracts light and other waves, meaning that the invisibility cloak might be achievable in about 30 years time. And if you’d prefer to turn heads rather than disappear, this beautiful emotion-responsive cloak by The Unseen changes colour and pattern depending on the wearer’s mood.
Skin as a surface
Robert J Sawyer, author of 2002 novel Hominids, writes about implants embedded under the skin powered by blood flow, and using skin itself as a display or screen. Lynne Murray, Director at London College of Fashion’s new Digital Anthropology Lab talks about ‘skin as a platform’ in our recent Future Fashion spotlight film, and two examples of contemporary tech moving in this direction are electronic tattoos and blood-powered electronics. Google is developing an electronic tattoo that functions as a lie detector, and US company Biolinq makes electronic tattoos to monitor athletic performance.
All in the blink of an eye
Verner Vinge, author of 2006 novel Rainbow’s End imagines a world whereby his characters overlay the digital and physical worlds through Augmented Reality contact lenses, and have the ability to communicate and input information through micro-gestures unnoticeable to those around them. Similarly, American company iOptik are already developing an augmented reality heads-up display onto contact lenses, currently in prototype stage.
Technology outrunning our imagination?
So where do we go from here? It appears that we are now at the point technological progression is at such a speed that its capacity to enhance our human capabilities almost outruns our imagination around applications. No matter how outrageous we are in our visions for the future, we are at a very exciting time now where the gap between tech and our imaginations has significantly narrowed. We are now at the point we are beginning to make our wildest wearable dreams come true.
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