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Google Glass

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

 

Any new technology is going to be treated with suspicion by a large portion of the population, due to lack of understanding and misinformation. It happened during the birth of the Internet, and now it’s happening with another new and strange technology, Google Glass.  

Google Glass is a reality augmentation device, in essence a wearable computer. It has been available publicly for little over a year, in an extended trial period where the units have been made available to what Google colourfully called its ‘Glass Explorers’. However, in the short time that the technology has been available, the users have been given a new and less flattering moniker by unwelcoming members of the public – Glassholes.

Before we get onto the reasons for this, lets take a closer look at what Google Glass does: Google Glass is a tiny computer projecting onto a clear screen over one eye. It’s operation is similar to that of a smartphone, with users able to access features via a touchpad on the side of the head.  It is, however, designed to be largely hands free, with apps navigated by voice commands, tilts of the head and even blinking.

Using Google Glass, you can view a map without taking your eyes off the road,  send a text message just by speaking, take photos and record video. And it is these last two features that have made the hardware and its users an object of suspicion to many. 

In early 2014, a Berlin based programmer named Julian Oliver released a small piece of software called glasshole.sh, which has one simple function. It can detect the presence of any Google Glass user on a local Wi-Fi network and boot them off. Since it’s release, the software has proven popular with restaurants, nightclubs and bars, as well as these signs available for free download from anti glass website stopthecyborgs.com

 

Why the backlash? Put simply, privacy fears. When someone takes a photo or records a video with a camera, or even a smartphone, their actions and intentions are generally clear and difficult to conceal. With Google Glass, however, the perception is that a user can be recording, taking photos and uploading to the internet, all while looking as though they’re reading a paper or drinking a coffee. What happens when people see someone wearing a device they think could be recording them at any time?  Suspicion, abuse and physical attacks. People have had their units ripped off their faces and smashed on the ground. Growing numbers of social establishments in the USA have banned the devices outright. They’ve even been called a ‘Social Divide on your Face’. Ironically, you only need to do a simple Google search on ‘Google Glass backlash’ to see how widespread the suspicion towards this new device is. But does it deserve such a stigma?

When film cameras were made available to the wider public in the late 19th century, outraged people declared an end to privacy. Cameras were banned in parks and beaches. The same privacy fears emerged when the first cell phone cameras were released. Could we just be seeing a resurgence of this trend?  Even Google executive Ed Sanders calls the backlash a ‘necessary symptom of a company that’s trying to be disruptive’.

Also, many of the beliefs about Glass are merely misconceptions. It can only record 10 seconds of video at a time, and needs a spoken command to begin, or a fairly obvious ‘wink’ to take a photo. Future versions of Glass may include a blinking light or similar when recording to allay privacy fears.

Aside from these concerns, one of the biggest questions about Google Glass is whether it will be a successful product, given that it hasn’t even been made commercially available yet. A year on from their initial enthusiastic purchase, some early adopters have complained of finding their units slow, limiting and unwieldy, however it could be argued that discovering these faults is the whole point of a public trial before a wider release.

Only time will tell as to whether these units become a new and viable alternative to smartphones, or a fascinating and controversial experiment in technology and human nature.