It hasn’t even gone on sale and politicians are already proposing laws against it, although the nation’s first such legislation is still facing hurdles. What is this monstrous device that so threatens the established order that it must be stopped by the strong arm of the law, even before consumers get their hands on it?
Progress is… dangerous?
Google Glass. To be fair, the pols don’t want to ban the eyewear computing device everywhere, just while driving. It does offer hands-free communication—something you won’t get from the touchscreen on your iPad rental or that smartphone with the pull-out keyboard—but the usual “experts” are lining up to say it’s obviously “too distracting.” That said, Glass is a futuristic product from a company that has done as much as any other to build the digital world we all now inhabit (and that inhabits us, too). What’s the idea here? A little history will clarify things.
The first “smart phone,” named Simon and built by IBM, was a flop in the early 1990s. It was only a dozen or so years ago that “real” smartphones began hitting the market, and those early ones started off light on features. Eventually, however, they integrated small, efficient versions of all the standard Information Age tools you have on your desktop PC or iMac: a web browser, better and better cameras and lenses, movie and music players, e-book readers, GPS navigation, and so on. The next step, according to Google, is wearable technology, and the company hopes to have its $1,500 Glass on the market by the end of 2013.
Reactions to Glass, understandably, are mixed. Pundits have come at the product from all angles, while coffee shops are making headlines by banning the devices over privacy concerns (plus, in the Pacific Northwest, a growing anti-Google attitude). Google’s marketing video shows Glass recording videos and taking snapshots, doing real-time translation, showing directions right in your line of sight, displaying weather data, and joining video conferences via Google+. Tasks that once required the power and connectivity of PC desktop computers or high-end laptops are now being performed by a device you may even forget you are wearing. Others will doubtless notice it, of course—but it also notices them, by dint of its camera and communications features. (More about that in a moment.)
There is no complete list of features and specifications for Google Glass, but the company has announced it will feature both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Out of the box it will connect with our MacBook Pro rental and your Android smartphone, plus a zillion other devices. A small, highly efficient, rechargeable battery resides in the device’s frame, which has another unique duty: in the absence of headphones, the frame itself “microvibrates” directly on the user’s head. Picked up and passed along by the inner ear, the vibrations become “sound” in the mind. This is amazing technology; there’s no two ways about it.
Boon or bust?
Innovative sound reproduction, of course, is not what will drive the success of Google Glass. That will depend on its offering compelling features that are not available on smartphones, tablet PC rentals, desktops, or iGear. Without a doubt, the most compelling feature, and the unique selling point of the product, is “augmented reality”—adding an overlay, or several, of images, graphics, text, and data to your field of vision. The potential for good—in education, medicine, security, communication—is huge, and in this context Google Glass seems a logical next step in the evolution of “personal tech.”
But the ability to seamlessly record your every moment, and every person around you, does present a real threat to privacy in many instances. The ongoing improvement of face-detection technology means you could identify passers-by and surreptitiously take photos or videos—or just run an hour’s or day’s worth of captured video through face-detection software later and “see what pops up.” In fact, this is what some police departments want to do with the video they get from traffic and red-light cameras. Is this all turning into another case of “who watches the watchmen?” We’ll keep you posted.
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