Technology can have all kinds of horrific consequences. Just look at the invention of nuclear reactions, which led to the atom bomb, or to TV, which brought us Simon Cowell.
Wearables are just as prone to misuse, malfunction and malevolence as anything else, and that’s got us wondering: what horrors could wearable tech have in store for us in the Halloweens of the future?
Robot arms: they’re all fun and games until they attack their owners.
All technology is built by humans, and that means some of it is built by humans who are distracted, unwell, incompetent or so hungover they can barely see. Inevitably that leads to the odd malfunction, and while that’s annoying enough when it’s a domestic appliance it’s considerably more of a problem if it happens to an exoskeleton or robot arm that goes crazy while you’re wearing it.
As a study by the University of Ljubljana has demonstrated, being punched by a robot arm really, really hurts.
We’ll be honest. Electrocution isn’t high on our list of must-have wearable features, but Pavlok offers just that: it enables you to set goals such as getting up earlier or staying off Facebook, and if you don’t meet your goals it can then deliver up to 340 volts of electricity to get the message across.
Similar wearables have been used to train dogs since the 1960s, although shock collars are banned in some countries on the not unreasonable grounds that they’re barbaric - although that hasn’t stopped countless YouTubers experimenting with the devices on themselves. We’re not sure electric-shocking wearables is a trend we should be happy about.
If you think contactless payments and NFC (near field communication) technology are pretty handy, Dangerous Things has just the thing for you: its successful Kickstarter campaign created a kit for implanting an NFC chip under your skin.
Subdermal chips and smart electronic tattoos mean that you don’t need to lug a phone around to benefit from NFC; on the downside, that means that the muggers of the future may only have to lob off the odd limb in order to get their hands on your ID or bank details.
Brain implants have been the stuff of speculative fiction for decades, but we’re getting close to a range of implants that could do all kinds of good things: fight degenerative diseases, boost memory and possibly even make us all cleverer. Unfortunately, as we discovered when the late Barnaby Jack found a way to remotely access people’s pacemakers, implanted technology can be vulnerable to hacking - and that raises the terrifying prospect of third parties being able to control your brain and therefore your entire body.
As the New York Times reports, the new discipline of bioelectronics “gives [other people] a remote control to someone’s body”.
Fancy becoming a helicopter when you die? That’s what happened to Orville the cat when Dutch artist Bart Jansen made his deceased pet into a quadricopter. That probably won’t happen to any of us - taxidermy of humans, let alone turning people into remote-controlled aircraft, is generally frowned upon by the authorities - but if current ideas such as Cyberdyne’s Hal exoskeleton become widely used, we could end up with wearable tech that doesn’t stop working when our bodies give up the ghost.
Maybe our wearables will call our next of kin, send abusive tweets to all our enemies and delete our browser histories before walking us to the funeral parlour.
As the great Jack Handey once mused: “If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.”
We’re about to discover whether animals would be equally annoying or even frightening thanks to animal wearables such as No More Woof, promising to translate doggy speak into real language. What happens if we discover that man’s best friend actually hates our guts, or that everything we suspected about cats is true?
If you think this is scary, imagine it jumping out at you in photorealistic VR.
We don’t mean petrification in the geological sense - we mean it in the sense of being scared stiff, possibly fatally. If you thought Alien Isolation was pretty scary, imagine the horrors that photo-realistic virtual reality could bring to future Oculus Rifts.
According to Cloudhead Games’ creative director Denny Unger, “We’re very close to having the first death in VR - I firmly believe that”.
As neurologist Martin Samuels told ABC a few years ago, being scared to death is perfectly possible - and you don’t need to have a dodgy heart to be a victim. “I have cases of children with absolutely no heart disease who died on amusement park rides,” he said. “We all carry this little bomb inside us. We’re all at risk. If the situation is just right, if the stress is bad enough, if it’s acute enough… any of us can die.”