Fashion is really just starting to interact with the world of information technology (IT). Today there are already ‘cool’ gadgets and wearables, but in future, we will see whole new domains where fashion can play a key role. The biggest of these is the duality of appearance - where we may appear one way in the physical world, and have a whole range of digital appearances in the augmented reality and virtual environment worlds. This will lead to many people designing for themselves.
Along the way, electronics will continue to shrink in size to a point where it no longer significantly need affect the form of the object that carries it. Form and function will be separated at least as far IT is concerned.
Fashion is often at the forefront of technology usage. Many new materials and technologies are used in textiles and accessories when they are still too expensive or primitive for other uses. Technology development is accelerating quickly and shows no sign of slowing down in the foreseeable future, so fashion designers will have a lot of fun over the coming years. The next decades will see the gradual convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive technologies. Typical results will be materials with different tensile, thermal and optical properties, integration of IT into fabrics, and linkage of our bodies to the network for medical and communication purposes, via clothing or skin-wearables.
Thin, flexible displays are becoming available already, and we will undoubtedly see them built into clothing with increasing frequency. This will be both for body adornment and functional uses.
A wide range of electronic devices can already be built into clothes and this will increase. New fabrics are already being developed to provide power generation - using solar power, electromagnetic, thermal and mechanical means.
Storage technology is improving extremely quickly and we may expect massive amounts of storage to be available in very small volumes, so that people can take all their files, music and videos with them - integrated invisibly into small devices or clothes.
Haptics technology (the technology of enabling the remote sensation of touch) will also become available as part of clothes. A variety of electro-responsive materials exists already, albeit sometimes in primitive forms (for example, muscles wires, polymer muscles, shape memory alloys, etc), and these will progress quickly into routine fabric technologies.
Clothes will be part of the ambient intelligent environment we will inhabit in a few years’ time. There will be myriads of chips all around us - in building infrastructure, furniture, gadgets, clothes, foods, packaging, even on our skin and inside some peoples’ bodies (for medical and security purposes).
Chips in the environment or on our person will offer processing, storage, sensing identity and communications. The resulting smart environment will know who we are, what we are doing, where we are, to the nearest few millimeters, and all about us, subject only to our own preferences and privacy or security laws.
Chips will be physically very small, so have it in their power to be hidden anywhere, and any functionality that won’t physically fit into a device can be accessed via the smart environment. This means that fashion designers can add a wide range of functions to something without needing to change its design.
Various sensors on and about our person will monitor our behaviors and physical characteristics, and respond accordingly. One of the areas that computers may want to go in with other people’s digital bubbles is that of personality characteristics. An ego badge would alert us to other people that are likely to be of interest to us so that our social and sex lives would improve. A related device is the active contact lens, which uses tiny lasers and micro-mirrors built into a contact lens with circuitry and power supply, to raster scan a high resolution image onto our retinas. This is called direct retinal projection.
Any computer generated images could be superimposed on what we see in the real world. We would be able to modify how we see other people so when you meet people you could change how they look. Come hell or high water, beauty will quite literally inhere in the eye of the beholder.
We will not be limited by the properties of physical materials, or have to have the same appearance for everyone looking at us, nor even have the same appearance all day. Our appearance can be different to each viewer and different each time they look at us. So fashion designers will need to design virtual fashions, and these will need to be dynamic and context sensitive. Through and through, dual appearance dictates dual fashion.
One of the accessories that we might need in such a world is the digital ‘aura generator’. This will act as a sort of wireless web server that radiates our digital appearance into the nearby space. It is almost like the hologram generators that science fiction fans will recognize from Red Dwarf. The main difference is that it will make us look different to different people.
With increasing assistance expected from AI in all walks of life, we should expect that people would often want to design their own clothes - making most of the artistic decisions and letting the computer sort out the technical stuff.
As local production becomes more widespread, self-design may become very popular indeed. How much this affects the market for professional fashion designers will thus depend on how much relative skill and creativity they really have, as well as on how much effort people can be bothered to invest in designing themselves.
These developments bring us to the heart of how fashion will change. Such future is near at hand when we will have to worry about both our digital appearance as well as our physical looks. And on that account indeed our digital appearances can be infinitely diverse. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation
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