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Wearable Technology for Behavior Control

The recent fitting of an alcohol-detecting band to a convicted binge drinker in the UK is a reminder of how the use of wearable electronics for behavior control is proceeding apace. In a first for the UK, the authorities fixed a SCRAM alcohol-detecting leg band to a high risk offender. The principle is the same as leg bands fitted by to some with Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), where they alert the police if they go beyond a given radius from their home. They are then deemed to have breached the restraining order and are sent to a corrective center. In the case of alcohol, knowing that the particular person behaves dangerously and inappropriately when drunk, they are locked up if they over-drink again.

Although it sounds Orwellian, wearable technology for behavior control is now widespread. Disoriented patients, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease, are geofenced with a pendant that brings the nurses running if they go towards the freeway and, in some countries, it is legal for a door to lock ahead of them, triggered by the pendant, which also brings help if they are still for too long or fall over. Increasingly internet-enabled, they form part of the Internet of Things, where things collaborate without human input at the time but to the benefit of humans. This is detailed in the new IDTechEx report, Internet of Things (IoT): Business Opportunities 2015-2025.

There are many animal equivalents, where a cat collar, for example, emits a tiny shock if it goes beyond a certain radius or approaches a wire delineating the restraining area. For dogs, a “bark buster” collar emits a shock, water spray, ultrasound or vibration if it barks loudly. Most dog versions are remotely controlled by the owner and can be used for other forms of behaviour control.

Fitness bands for humans provide information and alerts but more direct behavior control of vulnerable people is on the way, hopefully on a voluntary basis unless they are criminals. For example exoskeletons are letting the paraplegic walk but they will be tuned to what they can manage at the time and may radio for help. Protected animal species need to be kept away from habitations where they will be killed. If the device only alerts the authorities it is too late.

There are a few objectors. Some believe that granny should be left to wander anonymously. More justifiably, some veterinarians have expressed the view that dog collars, made in East Asia, that emit a strong electric shock are inhumane and should be banned as they are not even effective for training.

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