Tech Talk: Through the Google glass


What are the implications of Google Glass, headgear produced by the technology giant that can shoot video and give directions?


By Nathan Blades

The world of cyberpunk novels is close at hand. A few years ago, having a computer screen overlay your vision felt like a flight of fancy – but now is the time of Google Glass, headgear produced by the technology giant that can shoot video, give directions and do video calls.

It’s being advertised as a new wave in content sharing, and that’s not off-base. In the same way that the advent of smartphones have made it easier to take a picture and email it or upload to Facebook, Google Glass reduces it to simple verbal commands. Recording drunken exploits has never been so effort-free. From the experiences of those who’ve tested the device, it works startlingly well.

Project leaders Steve Lee and Isabelle Olsson see Google Glass as removing the barrier between using technology and living your life. They find that looking at a screen or through a camera lens shifts your attention away from the real world. With the old joke of people walking into trees and lamp posts because they’re so absorbed in their phone, it’s not entirely far-fetched.

However, the more cynical out there (myself included) find this all a bit voyeuristic. Consumers recording anything and everything for Google’s perusal would both give me a vague feeling of being watched, and make me wary of what Google would do with all this footage.

To understand my concern, you’ll want to be aware of a concept called ‘Business intelligence’. Put simply, it’s when companies process the information you leave out on the ‘net. If you have a Google Mail account, and then search the internet or browse YouTube while logged in, Google remembers.

What do they do with this information? It’s all pretty innocuous, really. Most noticeably, the recommendations you get on YouTube are based on your browsing history. But it’s also used to give advertisers a little more information about you.

Nothing highly confidential is ever taken through Business Intelligence – your credit card details are safe – but information that you’re shopping for suede shoes, or you like watching urban dance videos on YouTube is going to be useful to someone – and they’ll pay for it, too.

The impacts that Google Glass could have on data research is absolutely huge. Your information, both online and offline would be at the fingertips of Google. Whether they actually do anything with it is down to the terms and conditions that you’ll (inevitably) agree to upon purchasing the hardware.

The biggest hurdle for the development of the Google Glass (and the audience’s reception) is how the general public can maintain their own privacy. Sure, Google can’t stop a consumer from using the Glass to peep on the neighbours, but because it’s an item of wireless technology, it can do all kinds of things, if the software’s there. Facial recognition is always just on the cusp of being a reality; and while it would make tagging your photos for Facebook a lot more straightforward, there are plenty of people who would rather remain unseen.

Are there prevention methods? Google developers are hoping that the community of Glass users will form their own ethics around not recording people who want to remain unobserved, and give indications of when they aren’t filming. For those who fear facial recognition technology, there’s the fashionably avant-garde concept of make-up and hairstyle designs to fool computers, which look suitably cyberpunk. Detecting the wireless signals of Google Glass headsets would be a simple hack.

But I’m getting a little speculative here. While Google Glass is definitely first chapter in a story of technology becoming more integrated into our bodies, we can only guess at Google using any recordings for truly nefarious plots, as plausible as they may be.

I would still totally buy a pair.

Interested in finding out more?

Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge is a classic cyberpunk tale that explores the roads technology like Google Glass could eventually go down.

Photo courtesy of Stuck in Customs, with thanks

Follow us @SW_Londoner

Related Articles