AQA Computer Science GCSE
Ethics - Wearable technologies
Wearable technologies are a rapidly growing area of the computer industry. They include things like:
- smart watches - which can play audio and video if connected to mobile phones but also be used to monitor health
- health and fitness monitors - record heart rates, movement etc...
- these include insulin monitors which are worn on the arm and monitor the level of glucose that diabetics have in their blood
- smart glasses - containing cameras and screens in the lens (for example, Google Glass)
- smart clothing or jewellery - which can have sensors built in to record key data (for example, clothing for athletes which acts in a similar way to a fitness sensor or smart socks for runners which records details about the way a person runs, allowing issues with running action to be adjusted)
These devices seem to be getting increasingly common, helped by the ability to make smaller and smaller computing devices.
Many of these technologies can be helpful. Fitness trackers allow users to see their level of activity, nudging or prompting them into doing more exercise or different types of exercise. Smart watches or connected clothing (Google have developed a jacket which uses a smartphone to connect to the internet - you operate it by brushing on the sleeve) are convenient and allow users to use technology in a more subtle way.
Insulin monitors prompt diabetics to take medication when required. This has an obvious benefit in terms of health. Insulin pumps can also be worn by type 1 diabetics. These deliver tiny amounts of insulin throughout the day, helping diabetics stay healthy and have been worn by elite athletes, allowing them to compete at the top-level of their sport.
Elite athletes can benefit from smart clothing in particular - at the elite level this can allow data on the way a person's body works to be analysed. Small gains in performance can result from this sort of feedback, which can lead to improved performance. At an elite level this can make the difference between winning and losing.
At a more every-day level, a pair of yoga leggings has been produced which provides vibration feedback to users to help them produce better poses and swimsuits containing UV sensors send a message to alert users that they need to apply sunscreen if UV levels are high. And smart socks for babies have been produced. These monitor heart rate, temperature, sleep pattern and so on, acting like a baby monitor (although my experience of socks on babies is that they come off very frequently)
Google Glass has been used by doctors to record video of operations to use for teaching medical students. This has the advantage that students "see" exactly what the surgeon saw.
Many of these devices include GPS chips which monitor location. There are privacy issues surrounding this, especially if someone else can access the information. Of course, this could be useful (if a child is lost, for example) and smartphones essentially do the same thing anyway.
The cost of technology can be a significant issue. Diabetic pumps, for example, cost £2,000 each, ad last for between four and eight years (according to the NHS in 2020). This places technology out of reach of many users.
The data created by wearable technology is often uploaded to the internet, which raises concerns about the security of servers and who else, other than the user, may be able to access the data - especially if it involves obviously private data, such as that related to health. There are plenty of cases where technology companies are hacked or where data is available when it should't be (what happens if someone can access the data from our glasses, for example?).
Legislation such as GDPR and the Data Protection Act should help protect users, but data breaches are still common.
The amount of data can also be overwhelming. An elite sports team may be able to analyse movement data to improve a baseball batter's swing or the way that a cyclist approaches a race, but a "normal" user might never be able to see beyond a few pieces of data. Users of wearable baby monitor technology have been concerned that too much data about their children simply makes them anxious. Combined with false alarms and the possibility of hacking baby monitors, this raises the question of whether the technology is doing more harm than good in some cases.
The usual environmental concerns apply to this technology as well. It all has to be made and powered, as do the data centres behind it.