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Why wearable computing is waiting for A.I.

Mike Elgan | Feb. 10, 2014
A new app for Google Glass seems trivial, but it represents the future of wearable computing.

When we look at wearable computers — smart glasses like Google Glass or smart watches like Pebble — we tend to think of tiny mobile computers that are somehow attached to our bodies or clothing.

The core attributes, we believe, are miniaturization and convenience. A smart watch, for example, saves you the trouble of pulling a phone out of your pocket to check your notifications.

But these qualities are irrelevant in the face of the real revolution.

I'll say it as plainly as I can: Wearable computers will find out what you want to know, then make you know it.

Why glassware called 'Refresh' is the future of wearables
A company called Refresh this week introduced a new Google Glass "glassware" app called Refresh.

The app is similar to a Refresh tool for the iPhone that's known as Refresh App. Both are designed to present "dossiers" — summaries of information — about people.

One of its neat tricks is to check your calendar, see who you're meeting with, then brief you on selected facts about those people.

Because the Google Glass version of Refresh rests on your face, it does a simple version of what all wearables will do in the future — it finds out what you want to know, then it makes sure you know it.

For example, wearable devices could help you learn more about people you meet — filling you in about whether you've met them before or if you share common acquaintances, interests or histories.

It's a small thing. But imagine a future where anything you might want to know simply appears to you without any action or effort on your part. You could be eating in a restaurant, and Google Glass could, for example, tell you that it's the spot where your father proposed to your mother. Or that your friend will be late because of traffic, the salmon got bad reviews online, your parking meter will expire in 20 minutes, or the bathroom is through the bar and up the stairs to the right. Imagine that such knowledge could simply appear into your field of vision at the exact moment when you want to know it.

That's where wearable computing is going.

That's why the wearable revolution is mostly an artificial intelligence revolution. What's really interesting about wearable computing is the work that back-end servers do to figure out what you want to know and then acquire that knowledge. The delivering-it-to-your-brain part is relatively trivial.

Speaking of trivia
Remember Watson, the IBM supercomputer that beat champion Ken Jennings at Jeopardy?

Now Watson is performing a new trick: It can read your Twitter feed and extract all kinds of knowledge from it. It can tell if you're nearing some life event, such as having a child or getting married, and also how you feel about it — even if you never explicitly mentioned any of this information.


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