I Thought Dystopic Fashion Would Be Cuter

I Thought Dystopic Fashion Would Be Cuter
Screenshot: (UChicago HCI Lab)

Last week was New York Fashion Week, so it’s only fitting that this week will be Impending Apocalypse Fashion Week. And no, I’m not talking about the climate apocalypse (at least not this time)—I’m talking about the robot apocalypse. Meet: the “bracelet of silence.”

According to The New York Times, married University of Chicago computer science professors Ben Zhao and Heather Zheng came up with the idea for this bracelet after Zhao decided to buy an Alexa-enabled Echo speaker for the couple’s home, a decision Zheng was not thrilled about. But, like the professors they are, the two decided to channel their disagreement into something productive, and came up with this piece of digital armor.

The bracelet is like an anti-smartwatch, both in its cyberpunk aesthetic and in its purpose of defeating technology. A large, somewhat ungainly white cuff with spiky transducers, the bracelet has 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic signals when the wearer turns it on. The sound is imperceptible to most ears, with the possible exception of young people and dogs, but nearby microphones will detect the high-frequency sound instead of other noises.

Essentially, the bracelet is able to jam the Echo, or any other microphones in the wearer’s vicinity, from listening in on the wearer’s conversation. Although many experts have attempted to reassure consumers that smart speakers and similar devices are not constantly listening and recording our conversations, it’s also clear that they record at times they shouldn’t.

It’s easy to think the only people looking for a device like this would be conspiracy theorists and Matrix superfans, but when it’s estimated that one out of every five American adults owns a smart speaker, that customer base quickly starts to expand. For most of us, any real sense of privacy when it comes to technology or the internet is mostly an illusion.

“With the Internet of Things, the battle is lost,” Mr. Zhao said, referring to a lack of control over data captured by smart devices, whether it gets into the hands of tech companies or hackers.
“The future is to have all these devices around you, but you will have to assume they are potentially compromised,” he added. “Your circle of trust will have to be much smaller, sometimes down to your actual body.”

Is he wrong? No. Is this grim? Absolutely. Welcome to 2020.

So sure, this device might be ugly (and for now it’s only a prototype), but if it ever goes into production you might find me trying to incorporate it into my wardrobe. Does it come as a choker necklace? Or in black? I feel like I could pull that off.

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