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Amy Webb - A futurist's notebook

Every week I open my research notebook and share artifacts from the adjacent future.

The Future of...-ables

Amy Webb

-able: adjective suffix.
Fit for or capable of being acted upon or used.

In the present day and well into the future, hybrid devices––computers designed with dual purposes––will be part of our daily lives. They are meant to be worn, of course. But also to be ingested, injected, implanted and imprinted.

Our immediate frame of reference is the wearable. Wristbands like the Amiigo and the Mio Alpha track our fitness and sleep. The Cuff is a wearable security device that doubles as jewelry. Watches––from Apple and Samsung––are a helpful second screen for our mobile phones. But not everyone likes wearing things on their wrists. That's where apparel comes in. The Heapsylon Sensoria Sock senses pressure to record the wearer's footsteps. The LEO and BSX Insight are both worn on the legs and monitor biosignals during workouts. Athos makes a shirt that measures muscle activity, heart rate and respiration. Wearables aren't just for adults. FitBark makes a collar to measure your dog's activity and stress, while Filip allows parents to track and monitor their kids.

In-ear computers, otherwise known as earables, will be here soon. Bose's Bluetooth Headset 2 is an ear piece that includes noise-cancelling features and a microphone. Noble's Savant promises clarity without wires. Last year, Apple filed a patent on earbuds that can be used to monitor temperature, perspiration and heart rate during exercise or sports––those earbuds could also be used to control electronic devices (like our phones) using head gestures.

A new breed of weavables––textiles woven with sensors and other technologies––will provide haptic feedback to help us navigate cities as we walk. They will also automatically adjust to cold or heat, keeping our body temperatures consistently comfortable. Google officially announced Project Jacquard, which attaches conductive yarn to circuits and connectors. Navigate Paris is a location-enabled jacket, which helps the wearer get around Paris without burying her nose in her smartphone. CuteCircuit makes dresses that can change colors via smartphone. BioCouture is growing fabrics in a lab. Projects in the works include drug-releasing medical textiles and fabrics that regulate moisture in our skin.

Even if our clothing soon tells us where to go, many of us will opt to stay at home wearing an immersible: glasses and goggles that surround us with detailed virtual reality experiences. Google's Cardboard, Sony's Morpheus and the Oculus Rift will be available early next year.

Medicine will start to look very different. Tatooables are going to clinical trials soon. Researchers at the University of Tokyo, Stanford and the University of California at San Diego are all working on an electronic second skins. MC10 has already created microscopic, organic semiconductors and carbon nanotubes that stretch and flex and can be powered wirelessly. Ingestibles––smart pills––will help patients who forget to take their medications or who need to monitor chronic illness.

Nearables––electronic beacons that only become active when the user comes within a few inches––will monitor us as we move about a store. They'll transmit information back to a brand, telling managers how many customers looked at their product and then how many completed the sale. Nearables will be used to measure office productivity and to maintain warehouse supplies. Speaking of.....

Tomorrow the world's first friendable leaves the warehouse. SoftBank's Pepper, the first humanoid robot capable of reading emotions and human-like body language, goes on sale to the public. When she sleeps, her shoulders move like ours do.

They're still early stage, but thinkables will soon allow more adventurous gamers to control games using only their thoughts. The 4D Force platform detects brain waves, capturing EEG/ EOG/ EMG signals and converting them into electric signals. The Emotiv Neuroheadset, Interaxon Muse and Mindwave can all be used to help us dial back (literally) our stress levels. For now, they're headsets, but in the far-future, surely we'll have moved on to implantables.


Is this the future of our food? Bistro In Vitro just opened. It's the first lab-grown meat restaurant. (Ok, so it's not a real restaurant, but they're still taking reservations starting May 2028.) On the menu: In vitro oysters. Lab-grown sweetbreads. 3-D Printed marrow eggs. Don't laugh. Some people thought Lunchables was a stunt, too, when it first launched.





You must not know about me. I could have another you in a minute. So don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're irreplaceable. (Ohai, intelligent sex doll!)


Is that song swirling around your head unforgettable? Wish you could make it unrepeatable? Go buy a pack of gum. According to science:

Three experiments examine the role of articulatory motor planning in experiencing an involuntary musical recollection (an “earworm”). Experiment 1 shows that interfering with articulatory motor programming by chewing gum reduces both the number of voluntary and the number of involuntary-unwanted-musical thoughts. This is consistent with other findings that chewing gum interferes with voluntary processes such as recollections from verbal memory, the interpretation of ambiguous auditory images, and the scanning of familiar melodies...

In other words, our memories are chewable.

Every week I open my research notebook and share artifacts from the adjacent future. Subscribe here.