The end of time is here

Could your watch soon know you better than your family? In our latest post, Michael Björn charts the rise of smart awareables, from the humble time-keeping wristwatch to tomorrow’s AI-powered neural-controlled devices. Is this the end of time?

Lady wearing smart awareables

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

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Up until recently, my Apple Watch would ask me if I was out for a walk every time I walked the dog. It was quite annoying since I walk the dog a couple of times a day. But then, the questions stopped. It seems my watch had figured out my behavior and just settled down into keeping track of my walks. It is just a small detail, but one that could bring about the end of time.

It wouldn’t be the first time a wearable device changed everything. In fact, wearables might have had more of a game-changing impact on our world than the internet. Because, although the idea of dividing the day into minutes and hours is more than 4,000 years old, it wasn’t until people started physically wearing time pieces on their bodies that social change began to accelerate.

Although a select few had been carrying pocket watches since the 17th century, and some extremely wealthy upper-class women had been known to wear clocks in bracelets since around that time as well, it was only when the British Army started wearing wristwatches in the 1880s that things started to happen.

Military wristwatches were used to coordinate troop movements and synchronize attacks; they became a crucial accessory for soldiers in the First World War. Since such watches were specially designed for the rigors of trench warfare, it meant that they were sturdy and subsequently became the perfect mass-market lifestyle item. But when the military wristwatch became a fashion trend among consumers, it had unforeseen side-effects that went beyond anyone’s imagination. The humble wearable watch gave rise to the 9 to 5 work life.

Without a watch on everybody’s wrist, there would be no time-stamp cards to punch, no strict office hours or work shifts in factories. The watch created modern life as most of us live it today.

But when my watch begins to understand that I am walking my dog, it starts keeping track rather than just keeping time. And everything changes yet again.

I would go as far as to say that it means the end of the modern world as we know it. From now on, society will be built on precise control rather than on precise timing. If we can be certain that things will happen, we no longer must know exactly when.


This fundamental change is already underway. For example, many jobs no longer require you to punch the clock in the morning and the afternoon. Imagine a society where stores no longer have opening hours, but they’re somehow automatically open when you happen to be there, or your appointment with the dentist to pull out that pesky wisdom tooth is scheduled with no reference to a specific point in time.

That is a totally different world, and it will come about when your watch keeps track instead of keeping time. The origin of the word “watch” is related to careful observation and vigilance. But, with a watch that is aware of you – not only what you do but why you do it – the power of observation moves from you to the little wearable device. You still have a watch, but you are now the one being watched.

Trust in humans and AI among virtual assistant users

That may sound like a distant future, but already today, there is artificial intelligence that can understand your personality just by looking into your eyes or hearing your voice. And Facebook recently purchased CTRL-Labs, a startup that combines machine learning with neuroscience in order to allow people to manipulate devices with their thoughts. CTRL-Labs uses a device that looks very much like a good old wristwatch, except it detects the signals your brain sends to your hand. While it may give you some short-term ability to control devices, it will of course  also get access to some of your thoughts.

Combined with AI, it is easy to see how this device really does, by watching your behavior, become aware of you. In that instant, it will be transformed from a wearable to an awareable; a device that keeps track rather than keeping time.

For this reason, we talk about awareables in our 10 Hot Consumer Trends 2019 report.

Based on the participants in the report, we can see that half of those who currently use virtual assistants (Google Now, Alexa or Siri, etc.), in phones or smart speakers, think that their smartphones will soon understand their emotions. In addition, 42 percent of users think smartphones will soon understand them better than their friends do.

Are you ready for the wide-ranging societal change that awareables will bring? I don’t know much about what this future will be like, but I can promise you at least one thing: It will be the end of time!

Read the 10 Hot Consumer Trends in full.

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