Google Glass – How Will They Change The World?

Glass is coming, and the technology-obsessed hordes will no doubt lap it up. But will it be for better or worse? We discuss the plethora of possibilities

Such is the hype surrounding the release of this device that by now most people have heard of Google Glass, the ubiquitous computing platform that promises users unparalleled immersion into the digital world though a graphical heads-up display appearing directly in front of the user’s field of vision. The Glass promises to be an intelligent, self-learning, wearable computer that keeps track of your movements, habits, and current needs to provide relevant services, all accessible directly in front of you, hands-free.

The user interacts and gives instructions to the Glass through voice commands, by prefixing their oral instruction with the words ‘OK Glass’ to prompt the device to enter listening mode. So, for example, you’d say ‘OK Glass, show me the directions to the nearest pizza shop’, and the device would engage its voice recognition software first to verify it’s you, and then deploy Google Maps on screen, in front of your eyes, to provide a map and instructions to the nearest pizza store.

It also comes with a video camera mounted on the frame that records at 720p quality video. Interestingly, a touted feature of the Google Glass is ‘live video sharing’ – the ability to share anything you are currently seeing, such as a family function, a child’s musical performance, or a sports event, live with all of your friends and family. This does indeed sound like a cool feature, but my question would be – where is the data allowance coming from? Mobile data plans are notoriously stingy. Just as an example, Sprint’s latest 4G mobile data plan offers 12GB for $79.99 – the most expensive plan offered, and you don’t need me to tell you that 12 GB is going to be run down in a flash if you are sharing a live 720p video feed.

Google Glass also comes with a feature application called Google Now, which is designed to keep track of your daily routines and habits and provide relevant services to assist you. For example, if you take a certain route to work each day, Google Now will recognise this, and future mornings before you leave for work it will provide traffic updates for that route and if congested, suggest an alternate route to work.

This in itself might not sound terribly ground-breaking, aside from the unique way the information is presented, but the main factor behind the enormous buzz surrounding the device lies in the potential of future applications.

The mind boggles when imagining the potential for future Glass applications. Just think – fully realised context-aware applications in your Glass, all integrated with the cloud, which continually monitor and record each user’s environmental variables such as their location, number and identity of people around them, even the conversations that people are having. Think of a Twitter-style global network but instead of searching for simple text-based hashtags, you search for voice hashtags – and Google’s giant database of conversations is scanned for anything that matches your search request. You could literally search for interesting conversations among people that live on the other side of the planet. Sites would evolve that rank and rate the best conversations from around the world. Hell, why even stop at conversations? The concept could be extended to video. Want to find the cutest cat seen around the world yesterday? Tell Google your needs and the possibilities are endless – and, to some, endlessly frightening.

The privacy implications with the introduction of Google Glass are total – a device that will be relatively cheap, easily available, and able to record video and all manner of environmental data at any time and in any location will signal the death-knell to our privacy. The very concept of privacy will surely fade into obscurity once this devices becomes accepted in the mainstream, and once more refined models are released that have longer battery power, higher quality video recording and a more inconspicuous design (the suggestion is that future models will be totally indistinguishable from designer or prescription glasses).

Your very presence in public will likely lead to a permanent, indelible footprint for the world to see with the advent of Glass. Your walk down a public mall would be filmed by any multitude of Glass wearers, all uploading their data into Google’s giant data-bank, where it would stay forever, and freely available to be viewed by all. Have laughable fashion sense? Your poor taste may be unknowingly the butt of Internet jokes as your latest outfit is beamed directly to cyberspace for the discriminating masses to critique.

Of course, one of the first things that comes to mind is the negative implications from total elimination of privacy – in particular, the protection of children from would-be paedophiles and stalkers. Imagine a world in which a paedophile can spot a child he likes, identify that child with Google’s face recognition software, learn where he/she lives, record them as they travel to school and home, and who knows what else – a terrifying prospect indeed.

On the contrary, there are positive implications for law enforcement with the ubiquitous nature of Google Glass. Traffic accidents would be (mostly) all recorded on Glass, making it possible to determine the GPS data at the time of the incident, speed and direction of the vehicles involved, and the party at fault. Crimes such as mugging, theft, rape, assault – these could all theoretically be reduced with the widespread use of Google Glass – who’s going to commit such a crime when the victim could be wearing Glass and be able to take high quality photos, videos, and GPS data, all automatically and quickly uploaded to the cloud for law enforcement to analyse.

Even petty crimes such as littering could be identified and acted upon with the use of Glass. See someone throw his empty KFC box out the window? You’ve got it on video, automatically integrated with the cloud and sent to law enforcement.

Whether Google Glass will ever be considered socially acceptable to wear in all public places is still a matter of debate. A person sitting in a bar, for example, wearing Google Glass and staring perhaps at a beautiful young female, obviously recording her, is likely to receive at least a threatening glare or roughing up.

You’d expect, though, that over time, as newer versions of Glass are released that are less and less noticeable and as the product becomes more socially acceptable, even this slight protection offered by social convention will be ebbed away at. Another factor to consider in the launch of Google Glass is the potential for egregious copyright violations by the users.

Think of art galleries, movie theatres, sports events, concerts, and the like. These all have the potential to be discreetly recorded and uploaded live via Google’s video sharing feature. It seems unlikely that event promoters and managers are physically going to be able to ban Google Glass from all such events, especially if Google gets their way and every person has a pair of these things. There will be too many of them and promoters will be powerless to stop people using them – just like smartphones today. The difference is, however, Google Glass will be able to record higher-quality, first person, steady video of live events as there’s no phone to awkwardly hold in the air and try and keep steady. Think leaked bootlegs of new movies are everywhere now? Wait until Google Glass comes out. People can sneak a pair into the cinema in their pockets, pop them on before the movie starts and live stream the premiere of a new movie to the world.

Consumers must ultimately decide whether the trade-off between the new functionality, added convenience and entertainment the Google Glass brings is worth the undeniable downside of a world in which privacy is all but eliminated and a megacorporation (Google) has the ability to view almost every single detail about every one of its users – where they shop, what clothes they wear, what they like to eat, and who they talk to. Given the hype on the Internet and humanity’s seemingly insatiable lust for new gadgets and technologies, I think the safe bet is on the former.

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