Wearable technology is becoming a part of everyday life as companies like Google and Intel boost development of these devices, but 53 percent of Americans fear society would become worse if most people wore implants or other devices that constantly show information about the world around them, a new survey says.
Approximately 1,000 Americans in all 50 states responded to questions about future technology in a survey published by the Pew Research Internet Project, ranging from predictions on whether humans will have long-term space colonies in 50 years to whether they would want to ride in a driverless car. Devices available for purchase now include Google Glass smart visors, which Google sold to the general public on April 15 for $1,500, and Fitbit bracelets that track body performance data for joggers.
These devices are less science fiction than ideas of space colonies but they still generate hesitation because people are only starting to benefit from their useful data and convenient access to information, says Patrick Tucker, a futurist who is author of the book “The Naked Future: What Happens In A World That Anticipates Your Every Move?”
“We are going to see the normalization of wearable tech as we did with the Internet,” Tucker says. “Even people who don’t look forward to the prospect of buying a wearable device will still benefit from the data that is collected about topics including fitness and health.”
When it comes to the big picture 59 percent of Americans feel that technological advancements will lead to a future in which people’s lives are mostly better, while 30 percent believe that life will be mostly worse, according to Pew.
Smartphones are a part of everyday life, but wearables are still an evolving type of product with room to improve before they become must-have devices. While 60 percent of U.S. adults track their weight, diet or exercise routines, only 9 percent follow them using a mobile application or online tool, according to a different study on the subject from the Pew Research Center published in January.
Intel is developing wearable technology that will be appealing to consumers by partnering with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Opening Ceremony and Barneys New York on device designs. Style is part of a “coolness barrier” that developers of wearable devices need to overcome, Tucker says.
“The fashion is going to have to evolve to overcome the stigma against wearable tech, and the applications designed for those devices will also have to prove useful to people,” he says.
Pew took the ethical questions of man versus machine a step further when it asked respondents of its new survey about the influence of robot drones on society or the chance to get a brain implant to improve memory capacity. Only 26 percent of Americans told Pew they would get a brain implant to improve their memory or mental capacity if it were possible to do so, while 72 percent would not.
The human brain is "the most advanced object in the universe," so it is unlikely that people would try to improve it with robotics, but a cloud computing device to store human thought is more practical, Tucker says. A mixed sense of enthusiasm and alienation about invention and tools are a part of the human condition, which will deepen in the coming decades as technology advances at a rapid pace, he says.
“I have yet to see a technology that has separated us from our humanity,” he says. “Everything we create reflects our humanity. Having said that, it is important to pay attention to that anxiety and how what we create is going to disrupt established systems of life and work.”