As human-enhancing technology becomes tinier and more advanced, the price of progress is complexity.
I was into wearables before there was Google Glass, Apple Watch, or the Moto 360. I was into them before cheap devices told you how much you had walked, run, slept, or eaten. In fact, I’ve been into them for so long now that I’m not quite sure when it started. I think it was around when I was five, in 1986.
The wearables I started wearing as a kid and still wear today are hearing aids—or, as my audiologist euphemistically calls them, "amplification devices." Although many will never need hearing aids, today’s tech firms are making it likely that, someday soon, tiny computers will become extensions of your body, just as they have been part of mine for nearly 30 years. Thanks to that experience, I feel as though I’ve had a sneak peek into our wearable future—and I can make some predictions about what it will look like.
To be fair, hearing aids are quite different from the current array of consumer wearables. Hearing aids are medical devices designed to make up for a physical impairment. By contrast, consumer wearables like the Apple Watch are luxury items that let us read text messages and measure our fitness. This distinction has legal significance: The FDA tightly regulates any device that tries to either diagnose or treat a medical condition. That means certain features are unlikely to ever exist in a consumer wearable, unless Tim Cook wants to sell watches that require a doctor’s prescription.
But despite initial appearances, both medical and consumer wearables share a few important goals.
Broadly speaking, both types of wearables aim to fill gaps in human capacity. As Sara Hendren aptly put it, "all technology is assistive technology." While medical devices fill gaps created by disability or illness, consumer wearables fill gaps created by being human. For example, evolution hasn’t given us brain wifi, yet.