With the growing pervasiveness of smartphones and other smart devices, the gap between user and interface is shrinking. If many futurists and tech experts are to be believed, the age of cyborgs may be nearly upon us.
A recent trend toward this total integration between human and machine has been in the form of the wearable computer which, as the name would suggest, is a device that is worn with, under, or over everyday clothing. Although a number of wearables have already surfaced, they have remained more or less a novelty up to this point.
It makes perfect sense that Google, of all companies, would be the one to step into the wearable marketplace and make it mainstream with its currently-in-development “smartglasses” device known as Google Glass, which represents a new frontier for consumer electronics that’s as terrifying as it is fascinating.
The device, which looks like a combination of the Geordi La Forge’s visor from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Vegeta’s scouter from “Dragon Ball Z,” is a headset shaped like a pair of glasses, and consists of an LCD screen, camera and touchpad. The screen, which fits over the right eye, can display social network notifications, reminders, location data, videos, and the camera can record both still photos and 720p (HD-quality) video. A number of Glass-supported apps are currently in development, including Evernote, Google+ and other popular applications.
Although the device is currently still in development with no announced release date, Google released a $1,500 developer model (known as the “Explorer” model) to consumers for a single day, opening up the technology to the general public for the first time (though the device has been available for developers and members of the press since February 2013).
Glass’ functionality makes for a good argument for the usefulness of augmented reality (AR) technology in everyday life. The device would essentially function as a heads-up display (HUD) not unlike those found in video games (albeit without things like health meters and ammo counters, at least for the time being). This has huge implications in the realm of human-computer interaction, where AR technology has until now been little more than a fun novelty.
Despite the innovation at the heart of smartglasses and other wearable devices, there are more than a few controversial issues that would conceivably come about, particularly with regard to privacy and confidentiality. Legal boundaries must be defined regarding the admissibility of audio and video captured on devices like Glass in a court of law, and a number of cyber-security and hacking laws would likely need to be re-examined.
As it stands, there have already been a few reports of assaults on Glass owners by people who did not wish to be recorded. A number of businesses, including McDonald’s, have established anti-Google Glass policies in order to prevent such incidents in the future, and multiple blogs devoted to the “Anti-Glasshole” have emerged that are determined to eliminate the “threat” that wearable computers pose to personal rights and freedoms.
Personally, I’m a bit conflicted about my view of Google Glass: on one hand, as someone who plans to enter the Human-Computer Interaction graduate program here at Oswego State, the device has the potential to do cool things in the right hands. On the other hand, the potential issues in surveillance and privacy are pretty frightening, especially given the recent controversies involving NSA surveillance.
Regardless of whether the release of Google Glass paves the way for a new form of consumer electronics or initiates the breakdown of human society as a whole, the world of technology is about to get very interesting in the coming years.