Rise of the body hackers: Google, the wearable web and transhumanism

Could smartglass and the wearable web trigger 'transhumanism'?

There are more serious scenarios for wearables. Emotiv's EPOC headset, which can read brain signals, has been used by visual artists, and by disabled people to operate a mind-controlled electric wheelchair.

The Muse headband is, for now, only able to discern two variables in calculating whether a brain is stressed or relaxed, but maker InteraXon is promising extended features in the future that will allow the user to control a TV, computer or a tablet - something that consumer electronics company Haier has already demoed.

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Headsets and eyewear will eventually be made smaller, of course, with wearables eventually becoming completely hidden. "As technology becomes more ingrained into our lives, it is likely to evolve to become an invisible layer upon our bodies," says Mark Curtis, Chief Client Officer at global service design consultancy Fjord, which created PayPal Mobile and the BBC iPlayer for mobile. He's talking about low-power, flexible screens being available on almost any product imaginaeble, and that includes clothes.

Techy clothes are already available from companies like CuteCircuit, which uses conductive fabrics to produce LED-studded dresses that light up in response to either music or mood.

Again, it gets much more serious than that, with the Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology Research Centre at the University of Wales Newport investigating the use of smart textiles in clothing to help with the challenges of ageing. Sensors buried within the fabric can monitor heart rate or even trigger a personal alarm, thereby replacing the functions of a fiddly phone.

Self-heating clothes could be one way of solving the winter fuel problem - you heat yourself rather than an entire house or room - but for now it's limited to ski-centric gadgets like Rohan's Powerstation self-heating winter gloves.

What is body hacking and transhumanism?

The rise of the body hackers
It's possible to check-in on Facebook using the Cookoo smartwatch

"While many body hackers embrace implants that enhance seemingly minor aspects of their everyday lives, concerns about magnifying intelligence, improving physiology and extending life are at the core of both professional and amateur practices," says Clare Acheson at Stylus, a research and advisory firm who produced a report earlier this year entitled Technological Body Modification: The Search for Singularity.

The report explores transhumanism and the 'temporary cyborgs' as seen in YouTube sensation True Skin, but increasingly in real life via DIY creations like the EyeBorg prosthetic 'digital' eye and the sonar, UV, WiFi and temperature-aware Bottlenose from Grindhouse WetWare, an echolocation device that translates data into a magnetic field that interacts with a magnet implanted in a human body.

The result is that users feel vibrations and learn what they mean. One example given is that someone with an implant could tell via a vibration in their finger how strong a cafe's WiFi connection is as they walk by. Banal, but impressive.

The end-game for all this is 'singularity': a state of super-intelligence that could entail endless implants and body modifications - and the end of humanity as we know it. A long time before we get there, however, will be the embracing of wearable technology by the internet's biggest brands; Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon.

It's already possible to check-in on Facebook by touching the side of the Cookoo smartwatch, and such trickery on all kinds of gadgets is only a software release away. Expect to hear much about 'designing for context' as the mobile web moves into wearables.

Are wearable gadgets bad for us?

No one wants a rusty implant, but even passive technology such as smartwatches and headsets can encourage a reliance on and addiction to gadgets that many of us - let's be honest - already fear is occurring (you check your emails in bed?).

"There is a possible health risk with always-on gadgets," says Ragothaman, who thinks it is a psychological challenge to have so many choices that we never had before. "We are becoming spoilt with options and the sheer fact that so much information is available in front of your eyes. It has become more than an addiction to always-on gadgets - it has become a big stress and a distraction."