Some questions on Google Project Glass
Thu, May 31, 12
I haven’t tried on Google Project Glass, which attempts to overlay virtual data contextually on objects seen through a custom manufactured ocular device that resembles eyeglasses. Here’s Google co-founder Sergey Brin wearing one:
Recently, Google let non-Googlers (photographers) try it out publicly for the first time, as it begins its seeding program to get the concept out there. Some think “Google Glasses are Preparing us for the Post-Phone World” and that may be. Others wrote about how Project Glass might be a bit jarring and too in-your-face after the release of a demo video from Google.
I like the general premise, but ceding so much intimate information with such precise temporal and spatial context to an information monopolist with a very questionable regard and record for personal privacy would be disturbing. On a more practical level, I had a few questions:
Optics — If you look at the photo above, you’ll see that Project Glass doesn’t require glasses. It does use the extremely familiar eyeglasses form factor, but without the glasses. Leaving aside aesthetic considerations, from an industrial design point of view, that’s a bit problematic. The Vision Council of America estimates “approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction. About 64% of them wear eyeglasses, and about 11% wear contact lenses, either exclusively, or with glasses.”
Project Glass is said to cost between $250 and $600. I don’t know if it would even be possible to bolt Project Glass’ essential apparatus onto a user’s own prescription eyewear. Or how much more money might be required to somehow refit Project Glass with one’s own prescription lenses. Or how lenses customized for myopia, hyperopia, presbyopia, astigmatism or combinations thereof can be used in connection with Project Glass. Or if those who also wear prescription sunglasses, would have to duplicate their Project Glass setup. It sounds like the combined cost of custom made prescription lenses and Project Glass may be prohibitively expensive to all but the geeky avant guard. If prescription lenses and Project Glass can’t affordably interoperate, does that mean Google’s writing off 50-75% of the population as potential users right off the bat?
Input — Given its diminutive size, voice prompts seem to be the only method of input into the system. What happens when a user grows dependent on Project Glass for way-finding or other semi-critical tasks but voice input is unavailable in a quiet or a noisy zone or due to network inaccessibility? It would be as frustrating as an obvious affordance, like a door handle, not responding to expected behavior, but more so.
Output — The device allows easy capture of still photographs as well as video in real time. Over many decades, people have come to expect the presence of a camera or, more often than not, the raising of it to eye level for the photo/video capture process to take place. Once the physical nature of the camera is exposed, the subjects being captured can either ignore it or demand the recording to be stopped, for example in some conservative cultures or in protected areas. By being utterly stealthy, Project Glass avoids these century-old conventions to allow secret visual recordings. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt had previously indicated that “The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” Is Project Glass crossing that “creepy” line?
Data — Speaking of creepy, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the data collected by Google of a Project Glass user (who’s not otherwise under broad surveillance) would far exceed any other attempt by a commercial entity in history.
Two years ago Eric Schmidt foretold this clearly: “It’s a future where you don’t forget anything…In this new future you’re never lost…We will know your position down to the foot and down to the inch over time…you’re never lonely…”
What happens when the state subpoenas your omnipresent and omniscient “invisible friend” Google for that extraordinarily comprehensive data collection on you where “nothing is forgotten”? What happens when your spouse does that in divorce proceedings? In a country like the United States where citizens don’t even have a national identity card, what happens when you can’t ever be practically “alone”? Exaggeration? In just a few years, the number of people who do not use a cellphone has come to belong to what Businessweek had dubbed “America’s Most Exclusive Club“. Data collected by Project Glass would dwarf cellphone tracking. Do we really have a legal framework for such commercial surveillance?
At this stage of development (from what can publicly be observed), it’s hard to tell if Project Glass is meant to be a mainstream product to be released by the end of this year, a Hollywood summer blockbuster or another windfarm-type pie-in-the-sky Google project.