Surely – hopefully – we’ll come up with a better name for it, but I believe that wetware will be a big, upcoming wave of change in technology. Wetware is the idea of putting computers inside our bodies. Sounds a little gross, but it makes a lot of sense that we’ll go there because of how two of the major themes of technology – networking and user interfaces – have evolved.
Networking: Computers get a lot more interesting when we connect them together, and we’ve been striving to connect more of them into networks and make it easier for us to access those networks. The first networks were local, a bunch of computers connected together in local area networks at universities and companies. Then the network moved to our homes, on our PCs and the internet. Then the network started to move around with us with wifi and laptops. And finally it has moved into our pockets with smartphones. As the network gets more ubiquitous and ever closer to us, it seems feasible that it would move into our bodies next – always there and even closer.
UI: User interfaces are about making it possible and ever more convenient for us to communicate with computers. We all know the evolution of how this works. It started with punch cards, then went to keyboards, then the mouse came along, touch pads, and today the ever present touch screens on our phones. This evolution looks like a move towards a more gestural and natural connection between us and the 0s and 1s of a computer. The next UI step could be an interface between sensors inside my body, likely my hands, and a way for computers to interpret those sensors without us having to move or touch a device anymore. Imagine moving and waving your hands around and your computer understanding what you mean (many people believe that our next step will be to voice interfaces instead – I’m less certain of that, though even in that case I imagine microphones will be embedded in our bodies).
Since two of the major themes of computing – networks and user interfaces – seem to be moving towards having computers inside our bodies, it looks to me like wetware, despite its ickiness factor, will become a reality.