My initial reaction when I read about Google Glass a few months ago was that it was the next step towards a Skynet Terminator apocalypse –and, more realistically, a tool for the government to turn the US into an Orwellian 1984 society in the name of national security. I actually didn’t really give it much more thought until I listened to this NPR article.
I can understand the pre-emptive backlash against the product (though seriously it hasn’t even been released to the public yet) and the concerns about privacy. Caesar’s Palace hotel and casino in Las Vegas has restricted the use of Google Glass (counting cards anyone?) and one of my Seattle favorites The 5 Point is noted here as being one of the first to ban the glasses from an establishment. (I seriously doubt anyone looking like this guy would be hanging out at The 5 Point anyway but I digress…) As the author notes in the article the ban, made originally in jest, is an extension of the bar’s existing policy prohibiting photos and filming in the bar without consent.
Which brings up an important, if slightly chilling, point of discussion. Lack of privacy and the growing importance of social media is an important issue in our country: “What happens in Vegas stays on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Flikr.” At my job we warn our students not to post anything online that they wouldn’t want their future employer to see. From indiscretions to interviews, however you frame it, once something is on the internet it is there forever, floating in the ether, impossible to retrieve. No amount of un-tagging, non-participation, or increased privacy settings can change this fact.
And Google Glass is changing the rules. There was once a time when you took a photo and had to load it on to a computer, then post it to the internet. Then came the smartphone and the ability to upload a photo with the tap of a finger. Now a photo can be taken in the blink of an eye–without the subject even realizing what is happening.
This removes the ability to “opt out” which is critical to our sense of privacy. As tech analyst Sarah Rotman Epps astutely points out here, Google Glass “will require shifting social norms to be accepted.”
And yet it’s not difficult for me to imagine the possibilities in the not-too-distant future. With our legal system struggling to keep up with cases involving cyber-bullying and the responsible parties in GPS related auto crashes, this giant social and technological leap forward presents numerous challenges to our society. How long before police officers are issued Google Glass or a similar product and are able to retrieve relevant information about a person in question by simply looking at their face? In twenty years will we even need police line-ups to identify suspects, or will we merely play back footage captured from witnesses’ points of view? Our right to remain silent will mean much less because our faces will speak volumes.
On the flip side, Google has touted the positive innovation its product allows, from virtual field trips captured using its video function, to using an app to identifying allergens in food by scanning a barcode.
When I heard the NPR article that sparked this post, my mind jumped to the medical possibilities. This product could remind a person with Dementia or Alzheimer’s who the people are around them. An app could guide them home if they leave the house and become lost.
Personally, I’d love one of these for networking purposes–how amazing to be able to cross-reference your LinkedIn network with the faces in the crowd at a conference and have their information appear before your eyes. Along with challenging how we view our privacy, this technology has the potential to revolutionize how we communicate with one another and how we function as a society.
The possibilities, the good and the bad, are truly endless, and there’s money to be made in from innovation in response to this product (beyond the expansion of our lexicon).
Stay tuned for a post on Kickstarter to finance my new gadget: it clips to your head and thwarts Google Glass facial recognition!