Imagine being able to record life as you see it and searching the Internet without looking at your phone or laptop. Google Glass can make it happen. Slated for a public launch later this year, this project developed by Google X Labs gives consumers what is essentially a wearable computer in the form of an aluminum strip and two nose pads. It isn’t even on the market yet, but I’ve never been more excited—or terrified– by a product.
Named one of Time magazine’s “Best Inventions of the Year 2012,” little had been known about the product’s specifics until Feb. 27, when Google co-founder Sergey Brin held a special talk at TED 2013 in Long Beach, Calif. His impetus for developing Project Glass was simple:
“When we started Google 15 years ago, my vision was that information would come to you as you need it. You wouldn’t have to search query at all.”
We’ve long-since entered the YouTopia–a place where before I ask out the cute girl in my lecture, I do a quick Google search and Facebook scan. It’s ruthlessly easy to gather information about almost anything.
Augmented reality is not a novel concept. Smartphone applications have been readily available for years, and the idea of melding humans with technology is well-documented. What makes Glass a game-changer is its ease-of-use and seamless integration into daily life. Commands are voice-driven and the glasses are capable of some truly remarkable things.
Users can record video, take pictures, search the web, ask questions, get directions, translate, send messages, share what they see in real-time, and more. But it remains to be seen whether or not people want or need a smartphone-like device strapped to their face.
One drawback is the glasses are a little ungainly, making the wearer look kind of like a cyborg assassin from “The Terminator,” but that will change if fashion eyeglass-makers like Ray-Ban start to design for the technology.
The digital divide between the haves and have-nots will only widen as early adopters reap the benefits simply because they can afford the barrier to entry. In order to snag one of the first pairs of Glass, people were told to enter a recently-closed contest on Google+ using the hash-tag #ifihadglass. Only then would winners have the privilege of spending $1,500 on the first pairs.
Apart from minor concerns about the availability and price of the technology, my biggest issue with Glass and the future of augmented reality in general, is privacy. Something about people wearing videos cameras ready to record at a moment’s notice makes me very uncomfortable. As much as someone has the right to record me eating a sandwich on the bus, I don’t think that right should be exercised. It’s against social norms to whip-out a smartphone and start recording people, but with Glass there’s nothing to give people the hint that they’re being recorded.
Think of that embarrassing picture of you on Facebook, the one where you didn’t know anyone was taking a picture—now consider that happening all the time. We’ve experienced the transformation into an era of rapid posting and excessive tweeting; it just isn’t clear that any of this should be socially acceptable. Brin seems to agree — kind of.
“Is the future of connection just people walking around hunched up, looking down, rubbing a featureless piece of glass?” he said.
The pace at which technology evolves is unprecedented. After wearable computers, what happens next? I hate to speculate, but it’s getting easier to gain footing on this slippery slope. The natural evolution from glasses is to contacts and from contacts to corrective surgery. It’s no longer that far-fetched to imagine a world where our brains are implanted with technology akin to Glass. Technological culture changes so rapidly that people don’t get a chance to catch up and get comfortable before it’s off to the next “great idea.”
I’m all for the creation and the progress of ideas. Never before have so many things been possible because of invention. This article can be read on any number of devices across the globe at the same time. Technological improvements have been driving the world since the dawn of tool-makers millions of years ago. In this age of innovation, it is the humanity which we must remember to protect.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer James Bradbury at James.firstname.lastname@example.org.