thoughts from a conference gone by

on October 21st, 2014, I attended the WEST (Wearable Entertainment and Sports Toronto) Conference. it was my first ever conference, and basically is the reason I’m now an active follower of wearable news and tech (they got me with their promises of exciting biostats data, obviously). after attending a few more conferences, it is still my running favourite. I livejournaled the event, so I thought I would share. here it is! your new content (and by that I mean it’s from October):

So. First conference! I feel underdressed. Definitely need to add about 17 blazers to my wardrobe. Things I’ve learned so far:

1) I’ve never felt so official as when I received my personalized lanyard at registration. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

 2) Canada is on the forefront of wearables. I can’t wait for it to get science-ey in here.

3) My phone is going to need to get charges somewhere about a third of the way through the day. Thanks, iPhone 4S.

4) Quaizar Hassonjee (who must be winning the coolest name of the day prize) says everyone is an athlete, even if it’s in your head. His video for “miCoach” referred to soccer as football and the narrator has a British accent, so it seems way more legit now. This tech is held in football players’ shirts, and reports back to a coach and the web to help players train. Pretty sweet.

5) smartball: A soccer ball that can tell you how bad/good you are at soccer. And then tell you about it. Scientifically.

VR Panel. How will VR make money? Answer: We’re working on it. We have a better chance today thanks to combining industries and the internet of things.

The Future according to David Strickland of Sulon: VR headsets allowing fans to have court side experiences from their living rooms. Sounds wicked. Hopefully we won’t get so excited that we jump up and cheer and instead hit the chandelier in the living room. 😉

We’re working towards being inside of content, and in order for that to happen, we need to create our own content. The point was made that no one has really done this before. If this conference is any indication, the door is open.

Ana Serrano: VR will be like MMOs on steroids. It will be networked. …all I want is for VR to make my dream of being a real Pokemon master a reality. Sounds actually possible! Next up, VR Hogwarts.

David Strickland: imagine being in a gym, putting on a VR headset, and walking among the dinosaurs. This opens so many avenues for cross-discipline integration. The amount of palaeontology and anatomy knowledge needed for Dino construction and movement would be vast…but totally worth it. Plus we already have Jurassic Park.

Dan Eisenhardt is talking about the heads-up display. Step one: have your own biometric data displayed in real time below your right eye. Step two: real time stats in stadiums, classrooms, etc. that you can think of. Again, your brain immediately goes to how this will affect gaming. Also an interesting point – how do we stop this tech dehumanizing us? If we’re paying attention to the machine and not the person, do we forget that it’s actually a person there?

Onyx Motion seems pretty darn cool. The smart watch app is essentially a coach for you without needing a real person coaching. I wonder how it actually works – I can probably look this up but it would have been interesting to know how the app gets its data. Does it know that your elbow was out too far for your free throw shot based on a gyroscope, or is it guessing based on other metrics? Where is the data coming from?

Dre Labre and Andrew Faulkner talking about the importance of being able to own your own data. A great idea but it seems like the ship has sailed on that one, but I’d love it if that we’re possible. Transparency is important, but where do we draw the line if we want the product functionality? What happens if insurance companies get a hold of my wearables data? And ultimately, will data taken from a questionable privacy standpoint be accepted by businesses and the public? My thinking is that it may be accepted by the public without the public really knowing how it happened. Seems like an exciting yet slightly sketchy area for the future.

Predictably, my phone ran out of battery after this, so the rest is a recap as I remember it!

Panel on making music tactile:
This was amazing.  This was the panel that made me realize that wearables is not so much about the technology, but what we can think of to do with our technology.  John Alexiou is the CEO and co-founder of Subpac, which is a product that I initially thought was kind of silly. It seems like it’s a very slim rumblepack that you can put on your back and connect to the bass in music to have a more immersive experience. The main target was initially for DJs so that they could have the same sound experience that their audience was having without the speakers pointed at them.  Cool, but not something I could see as having any use outside of that function.  Well, they blew that notion out of the water.
John started talking about accessibility and bringing these subpacs to the Deaf and HOH communities.  Now, having taken a year of sign language and being taught by a very influential deaf professor, this topic immediately piqued my interest and opened my mind.  I remember my professor talking about how it’s not that deaf people don’t like music or can’t experience music, it’s just that they experience it differently.  He gave the example of a party where the music was turned up to an astronomically high volume for any hearing person, but just right for a deaf person to be able to comfortably experience the bass while walking around.  But what if the pack was available to wear instead? I know that the Deaf community has a an immense pride and incredible culture, so I am more interested to know if this idea has been pitched to deaf adults.  Is it awesome or assumptive? In our quest to be able to integrate deaf people into regularly volumed concerts, are we encroaching on a Deaf space that was doing fine as it was?  Super interesting to think about, and I would love to get some opinions from the Deaf and HOH communities as well.

Panel: The quantified athlete – using biometrics to build the perfect player.
I was also very impressed by this panel, and the sheer number of things to think about and discuss when it comes to wearables.  How much data is too much data? Wearables make it possible to measure so many different types of biodata.  Gary McCoy of Catapult talked about how his tech can make it possible to scientifically determine what kinds of bodies and capabilities are right for every sports position.  Is this going too far?  This seems to be removing the “human” factor – will gifted strategists or “outside-the-box” athletes with innovations to share fall by the wayside because they do not fit the data? Inquiring minds want to know.

Dwayne De Rosario (midfielder for TFC) commented on this as well. When does data collection start to become invasive? Most players wouldn’t want to go home with wearables still collecting their biodata at all times.
Daniel Brusilovsky (Digital Initiatives Lead for the Golden State Warriors) agreed, and made the excellent point that we can’t just collect data for the sake of collecting data – the players have to understand and buy into the fact that it will help them improve. This is a good point to apply to all tech areas — if it’s not going to be useable (and as I’ve mentioned, those uses can get creative), then it’s probably not worth making.

Interestingly, all of the companies today have been extremely vocal in expressing that the data they collect belongs to the user and the user should decide what to do with it.  Is this only true until someone buys their startup? Do they vet possible buyers before agreeing to sell? I feel like this privacy caveat has a catch-22 and that the ship has sailed on it somewhat, especially with big companies that can buy up smaller ones.  I am cautiously optimistic about everyone here’s enthusiasm about user-controlled data, though.

Keynote by Mounir Zok of the the U.S. Olympic Committee:
Wow, I really wish this guy was Canadian and could therefore work for our committee. He speaks with an almost childlike excitement and immense passion that still manages to be professional and extremely based in knowledge. He talked about how wearables will forever change the sport, and reminded us that innovation is nothing new by showing slides of the changes in high jump over 100-odd years. (They used to hop over the bar?!)  It was a delightful combination of heartwarming anecdotes, cool facts, and a look to the future.

Closing keynote by Brian David Johnson, Futurist at Intel:
Okay, first of all, how does one get to be a futurist? He literally described his job as “travelling all the time and talking to people about the future.” Where can I sign up?  Intel? Bueller?
Anyway, this talk was absolutely gloriously optimistic about the future, and emphasized the importance of talking with each other in order to dispel fear and misconceptions.  He also mentioned a Time study where sharks are the #2 thing that “People are afraid of but shouldn’t be”.  Really, “people”?! Are we still on this shark thing? They kill less people than vending machines.  VENDING MACHINES.
Biology rants aside, we do need to talk to each other and share our knowledge in order understand each other.  And understanding is a big part of dispelling fear.  I’m into it.

And that was it!  I absolutely loved this conference and I have learned a boatload today.  But also I just want to know about more of the science behind this stuff.  So cool.  What is the biology behind it? My everlasting question.  Also I want to know how to become a futurist, because that looks like the coolest job ever.

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