Google Glass: Vision for the future, or the eyes of Big Brother?

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For someone who grew up in the 90's - the era of VHS and dialup Internet - today's tech still takes getting used to. It's worth noting how much new social technologies have changed things; airliners and movie theaters must now warn us to shut our devices off, people who ride the subway are more often buried in their cellphones than a book, and a quick Google search gives us the answers to most questions. Immediate information is at our fingertips, and that's a huge plus. On the down side, the details of anyone's life are up for grabs, and true privacy is hard to come by in a public setting, where iPhone cameras snap pictures left and right. Google Glass is sure to take this even further.

The most apt description that can be given of Google Glass is that it is a wearable computer, with all the capabilities of a cellphone and more. However, it comes without any keyboard, and the screen is essentially the lenses themselves. A small touchpad on the side of the headset allows the wearer to perform basic tasks, but for all intents and purposes, Glass is a technological extension of the human body - or so Google would like us to believe. Indeed, common tasks like sending a text message are done merely by speaking.

Writer Keith Collins explained of the process, "A man sitting alone at his kitchen table pauses after eating breakfast. 'Meet me in front of Strand Books at 2,' he says aloud, then takes a bite out of his sandwich. It is not a condition of the mind that has this man speaking to a person who isn't there. It is a text message. The words the man has spoken now appear before him in the device's lens. As he eats, he sees the message float away to his friend."

Gene Roddenberry couldn't have come up with a more futuristic scenario.

And yet, this is all going to be available within months - and will most likely be commonplace in a few years. The device will snap a photo of anything your eyes can see - just give it the command: "Ok, Glass: take a photo!" Shy about speaking aloud in public? A simple head gesture will also do the trick. There's already an app being developed for Glass that will let you snap a pic with a quick wink. This will fundamentally change the way we live our lives, and for many, it may underscore a need to rewrite the tenets of civil liberties and privacy policies. It will even pose some tough ethical dilemmas.

Developed by Google's X Lab, which has worked on other ambitious projects, such as driverless cars, Glass will have augmented reality capabilites (integrating computer-generated imagery with what you see in the real world), and it may even come in prescription lenses.

Privacy concerns are at an all-time high. Though Glass has not yet been shipped out to stores en masse, it has already been pre-emptively banned at bars, cafes, and casinos. The worry is that others will not be able to enjoy their day in peace when a Glass-wearer could snap a picture of them on a whim, or even film them, and share it on Facebook seconds later. In a Wi-Fi hotspot, Glass could even upload the video immediately to YouTube. The slightly intoxicated man beside you at the bar could unwittingly become the next big Internet sensation, and there's nothing he could do about it.

While Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, maintains that "if you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," others believe that they have the right to say whether or not their faces end up in a social network's news feed.

It's an odd issue. On one hand, the features that Google Glass will have are tempting and even beneficial, and on the other, they can be invasive and distracting.

Glass will let you chat on Skype - without the webcam, or, for that matter, the traditional computer. You'll be able to see and speak with your friend on the heads-up display as you mow the lawn or walk your dog. You can also show them what you're looking at during the conversation. You can trace Google Maps along the street you're actually walking on, allowing it to be your guide as you move. You can translate any language on the spot. And, though Google hasn't announced television capabilites yet, you can be certain that you'll be able to catch that latest episode of Game of Thrones right in your lenses while you have lunch.

The concerns don't end with meltdowns over privacy. Glass could cause countless accidents if you happen to be wearing it while driving. Text messages alone have caused numerous deaths on the road; Glass will take that to the next extreme. The question is, what can be done to enforce driving Glass-free? Will police be pulling over people who wear normal glasses, just to 'make sure?' Or will someone be liking statuses on Facebook while tailgaiting a school bus?

In terms of the progressive movement, Glass might revolutionize the struggle. A civil disobedience act or protest could go live seconds after the fact. A Mitt Romney-type "47 percent" remark will be exposed in a heartbeat. Through responsible usage, working people will be brought even closer together by what Glass has to offer. But the increasing accidents and privacy issues that social networks and smartphones have already presented can serve as a cautionary tale.

There's no easy solution, but the motto we must live by, perhaps, might end up being: "With great glasses, comes great responsibility."

Photo: Antonio Zugaldia/Wikipedia

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