The bounty hunter Aurra Sing isn’t a central character in Star Wars. Yet, she really caught my imagination thanks to the built-in comlink antenna protruding from her head. What a cool way to communicate (since we can’t all be Jedi Masters, able transmit our thoughts without any high-tech aids!) To me, this is the ultimate form of wearable computing: embedded tech.
And yes, I know this is fiction. But I also know that things that were pure fiction in my childhood – video conferencing, electric cars and touchscreens – are now real and widespread. And just as I hadn’t ever imagined the concept of the World Wide Web that we now take for granted, the future will bring untold wonders that most of us haven’t the faintest inkling of today – and that will change our lives dramatically.
Wearable tech is becoming more commonplace (and more mind-blowing!) – such as fitness bands, smart watches, and an amazing glove that teaches you how to play a piano melody by buzzing your fingers in sequence, thereby creating a muscle memory.
But how close are we to the possibility of embedded tech? Well, in a way, it’s already old news.
Medical research has resulted in several marvellous inventions to date. Take artificial cardiac pacemakers: The first wearable external pacemaker was invented in 1957; and in 1958, the first clinical implantation of an artificial pacemaker took place. As another example, here’s a quick look at the evolution of prosthetic limbs:
- Orthopaedic implants, such as pins or rods (to treat fractures) and joint replacements, were introduced in 1939 and the 1940s respectively.
- The first artificial limbs that could be controlled by the voluntary contraction of muscles made their appearance in the 1960s.
- Then came thought-controlled prosthesis: Mind-controlled robotic limbs, that translate signals from the brain into motion in the artificial limb, are at the heart of a number of research projects. Last year, a team in Sweden produced the first mind-controlled robotic arm that can be permanently attached to the human body, and exciting new developments in the form of targeted muscle re-innervation are currently in progress in the US.
Plugging technology into our neural systems
Such advancements, and others like them, are awe-inspiring. The ability to plug technology into our neural system is sure to provide incalculable benefits to so many individuals worldwide.
As widespread adoption of this technology becomes standard, we are also likely to witness the development of other built-in devices – perhaps in subcutaneous form rather than as a prominent antenna – that will make our current communications devices seem like ancient relics.
Whether or not I’ll be around to experience that myself, there’s no limit to what I can daydream about today! What about you? What’s your take on this?