Here’s a particularly creepy adaptation of wearable tech: if it doesn’t think you’re focussing or being active enough, it can hand you a shock.
Generations of psychology students (and the English majors who were paid as their research subjects) know that “operant conditioning chambers” are devices that dole out rewards and punishments according to behavior. If the research rat does something you want it to, you feed it kibble. If it doesn’t, you feed it a shock. They’re called Skinner Boxes after the behavioralist B.F. Skinner.
Eventually, Skinner boxes create compliant research subjects. The ethical questions are obvious. Unless, apparently, you’re a designer.
Because designer Ling Tan has built wearable devices that can “cause unpleasant sensations when the wearer becomes inactive or stops concentrating.”
Tan’s Reality Mediators project hooks up wearable sensors that detect muscle movements, brainwave activity and GPS location with four different devices that cause discomfort to the body. If the wearer stops moving or has a lull in mental activity for too long they will experience either an electric shock, an unpleasant sound, intense heat or irritating vibration.
Charming. But here’s the really creepy part: Ling kind of misses the point.
“Through prolonged period of wearing, the user’s body will start to adapt to the device,” said Tan, “this then questions the issue of who is in control; the user or the device?”
Clearly she’s clueless, because she’d otherwise know the answer: it’s the programmer who’s in control, and why something like this provides abundant opportunities for mischief and misuse. If we’re all very lucky indeed, this will remain one of those art projects that never makes it into the commercial world.