The First Wearable Computer Was Used For?
Answer: Cheating At Roulette
Wearable computers are commonplace today; we use them for tracking our fitness goals, monitoring health vitals, and all manner of tasks. A little over fifty years ago, however, the idea of wearing a computer on your body was still a futurist’s dream. A dream, that is, until an industrious MIT mathematics professor and MIT faculty member (an endowed chair) decided to build a wearable computer to help them beat the odds at the casino.
From 1960-1961, Edward Thorp and Claude Shannon put their minds to building a portable computer that could calculate the odds on the roulette wheel. The endeavor is notable for two reasons. Not only did they build a cigarette-sized working computer that could be worn concealed on the body and used to stack the odds in their favor when playing roulette, but they had to overcome significant challenges in figuring out the calculations to use on the portable computer in the first place.
To build the computer they first needed to get the physics of roulette wheel construction and action down pat. In order to do so they bought a regulation roulette wheel and set it up with strobe lights, clocks, and counters all in order to get measuring and calculating the timing and movement of the wheel down to an art form. Only then could they build a device, controlled by switches in their shoes and relaying hints to their ears via tiny hearing-aid-like speakers concealed in their ears, to take on the roulette wheel.
After conducting both passive and live field tests in Las Vegas to prove the machine worked (in 1961), the duo later went public (in 1966) with their design because sharing the trials, tests, design work, and outcome was more enjoyable and productive than pulling one over on the house.
Image courtesy of Thorp and Shannon.