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Wearing Well

Although I spent many years developing WearComp in relative isolation, I welcome efforts to commercialize wearable computers. At the vanguard is Xybernaut, based in Fairfax, Va. Xybernaut’s latest model is being manufactured by Sony, indicating that the Japanese electronics giant has an interest in what some believe will become the Walkman of computing. Last May, Xybernaut organized its own conference on wearable computing (and invited me to give the keynote address). I may also begin to license some embodiments of my original WearComp, as well as many of my more recent innovations, to companies who want to manufacture commercial systems. I think it will be especially important to make the cyborg outfit less cumbersome-something that’s long been a goal of mine. My latest version is quite sleek, and looks just like ordinary bifocal eyeglasses, with the eyetap point hidden along the cut line. Even when fully rigged, I can still play an acceptable game of squash.

I realize that some people see me and my invention as a potential threat-like the Borg of Star Trek fame: “You will be assimilated.” Clearly, there are important philosophical issues to be explored. Not only is there the danger of the technology being used to monitor people to make them into obedient productive cyborgs, but there is also the potential that people will become too dependent on this technology. My goal as a responsible inventor and engineer, however, has always been to encourage the development and manufacture of wearable computers as a means of personal, not institutional, empowerment. That will make worthwhile all the obstacles and challenges I have faced during my more than 20 years of developing this technology.

I hope that if I bring WearComp to market, anyone who wishes to will eventually be able to become a cyborg. We’ll live in a collaborative computer-mediated reality that will allow us to no longer need to distinguish between cyberspace and the real world. And then this cyborg will have lots of company.

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