Do connected devices
have a soul?

Pavlok: a shocking development in wearables

You already knew about bracelets that measure your heart rate, count your steps and send email notifications. Now, discover the bracelet that punishes you for bad behavior: there’s nothing like a real—but harmless—electric shock to set you straight. Do connected objects have a soul? They sure can be heartless.

You were about to take out your cigarettes or dip your hand into a bag of candy. It was all going well until suddenly... ZZAP! 250 volts shoot through your wrist, reminding you of your promise to quit smoking and eat healthily. Can physical punishment break addiction? That is the solution advocated by Pavlok, the first connected bracelet to take the “tough love” approach to coaching. Forget benevolent education, the method here is inspired by Pavlov’s conditioning—hence the name—which involves changing instinctive behavior by associating discomfort with undesirable habits.

On-the-go flagellation

With a connected bracelet, there is no escaping supervision. Are you trying to cut back on your expenses? Connect the bracelet to your bank account. Having trouble getting up in the morning? Set your alarm to “electric awakening”. You want to stop biting your nails and you have failed to get back to running for the last three months? Then thank your lucky stars: Pavlok is watching your steps, your hands, and demands that you clip your nails and go on your Sunday runs. But let’s not get dramatic—that bracelet is no monster! For one, Pavlok is the strict disciplinarian you choose for yourself. Even softies can put their minds at ease: before the shock, a vibration and sound alert will warn of the incoming punishment. You can even choose the voltage—downright comfortable!

The connected device: a friend who has your back

Automated coaching and its promise of an easier, more convenient world is becoming increasingly popular. And this trend is set to continue: though eight billion connected devices are already scattered across our lives, the world will see two to three times that number in the next three years. What will the future hold then?

 Thanks to “deep learning,” these devices will be able to learn on their own and refine their methods. The bracelet of the future will have access to massive amounts of information about us. By cross-checking this information with statistics derived from Big Data, it will be able to analyze our lifestyle and infer our risky habits. Moreover, it will know in real time which arguments are most likely to convince us—all in our best interests, of course: to help us become healthier, more efficient and in a better mood... A tempting proposition to be sure, but also a scary one! Does our future already look like a “brave new world” dictated by manipulative bracelets? Should we delegate our daily actions to devices bereft of a moral conscience and empathy?

When bracelets feel remorse

Thinkers are questioning how far we should allow Artificial Intelligence into our daily lives. Stephen Hawking is calling for an immediate moratorium on their applications, for fear that humanity may quickly find itself outstripped (and outmatched) by its own creation. Others are far less alarmist, including Google’s star futurologist Ray Kurzweil: he believes these developments can’t be stopped and that robotic abilities, combined with our own free will, will open up an amazing future for humanity.

We can even imagine reaching a technological milestone when connected devices develop a capacity for regret and doubt. The ever-growing complexity of Artificial Intelligence may give birth to sensitive machines that, like us, will sometimes choose humor over reprimands. Will we ever see bracelets that can actually relate to our need to reach into the cookie jar every now and then? Let’s just hope we always have the option of disconnecting without getting punished with an electric shock.

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