In the age of wearable technology, don't forget who wears the trousers

Computers are getting bigger and smaller at the same time, but Intel futurist Steve Brown says what's most important about wearable technology is the person doing the wearing.

CuteCircuit's latest fashion line reminds us that wearable technology doesn't have to sacrifice beauty.
CuteCircuit's latest fashion line reminds us that wearable technology doesn't have to sacrifice beauty. CuteCircuit

From smartwatches to smart shoes, in the age of wearable technology computers are getting bigger and getting smaller at the same time -- but according to Intel future-gazer Steve Brown, the most important thing about a wearable device is the person doing the wearing.

"Anything can become a computer," says futurist Steve Brown speaking at the Wearable Technology Show in London. Gazing into his crystal ball, he sees three things happening in technology: "Computing is becoming smaller, computing is becoming bigger, and computing is becoming more natural."

How can computers get smaller and bigger at the same time? "Computers becoming smaller is the key thing," says Brown. As chips and computers shrink, "computers are getting closer to merging with us... computers are getting closer and closer to our brains."

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At the same time, computers are getting bigger -- somewhere. Huge data centres that can crunch huge numbers can connect to Google Glass, Samsung Gear or any device we carry or wear, and "the experience you get is that you have one of these giant computers on your wrist, on your eyes, on your feet," says Brown.

Finally, our interaction with computers is becoming more natural. "For the first years of computing we have talked to computers in the way they need us to. But we're now in the era of touch, and we invented a whole new language to communicate with devices. We need to do that again for wearable devices."

Be your best self

But the success of wearables depends on more than just the technology. "The things that you wear say something about you," says Brown, highlighting the cultural meanings of spectacles or watches. "There are some things that wearables signify that are unintentional... What do you think when you see someone wearing a Bluetooth headset?"

Brown's advice to those developing wearable kit is to always think about the person doing the wearing. "Be bold," he advises. "Don't let engineers lead you. A device has to fit in with what is important to people... how do people use it? How does it help people be their best selves? They must help people be the best parent they can be, the best employee they can be, the best friend they can be.

"Technology is just technology: what matters is what you can do with it."