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Articles & Material

Google Glass
05 / 03 / 14

Google Glass

Notes from a Google Glass Guardian Masterclass by Michael Rosenblum and Lisa Lambden I attended on 4th March 2014

What is it?

The presenters claimed that glass is "a computer that you wear on your face” but really, it’s a smart phone that you wear on your face. Much of the technology is already with us in hand-held devices, so the much-hyped revolution is nnot because of improved functionality, but because glass will be hands-free, 24/7 and ubiquitous.

Glass began life as a military app to enable soldiers to fire more accurately when engaged in action. They could continue to look at their targets and receive information without lowering their heads to a computer screen. Since then, other industries are adopting glass in a world-wide limited trial. Virgin Atlantic, for example, are using it to check in upper-class passengers. Their ground staff wear glass to recognise passengers by car registration plate or facial features as they enter the area and can prepare their boarding cards, luggage tags and favourite dry Martini in advance. More serious applications include surgeons being able to focus simultaneously on the tissue under their scalpel and the patients’ vital signs and records.

A single glass costs $1500 and Google are extremely tight about who is involved in the trial. They make you sign a contract and monitor your usage, removing the set from your possession if you trangress. So far, there are only 10k sets released for beta testing, but the plan is to increase incrementally for a couple of years and then exponentially and roll out to 21m by 2018.

Obviously, there's no keyboard so everything is movement and voice activated. Essentially, to use glass, you need to develop a facial and vocal tic. First nod your head upwards to turn it on, then say “OK glass …” and give it an instruction, such as “take a picture” or “call my boyfriend”. You swipe your finger along the arm to move the screen. It might seem like you’re swatting a fly off your cheek, but actually, you’re scrolling.

Is it any good?

Sounds great but there are a few drawbacks. It’s new technology, so expect the usual glitches. Being a sophisticated device, there are 16 gigs overall but only 12gigs to use. The battery is poor; it lasts only two or three hours. It doesn’t cooperate with apple products so you need to connect it by blue tooth to an android phone. There has been no health risk assessment yet in medical terms but Google are aware of risks of being distracted when wearing the device and are attempting to minimize these by insisting on training new users thoroughly. You also need a gmail account, to operate glass, obviously.

What’s its potential?

When Edison invented the phonograph he listed 51 uses for it, none of which mentioned the recording and playing of music. So sometimes the best use comes from an unseen direction. Even Gutenberg didn't understand that the use of printing would go beyond copying bibles. But printing democratised the world. It allowed Martin Luther to print his protestation against the Catholic Church, popularise it and change the world. Google glass is the printing press of the 21st century. It democratises content.

Perhaps because we were hosted by the Guardian Newspaper, the presenters were keen to alert us to the disruption that Google glass presents to the media industry in particular. Glass, they say, extends the model that “smart phones allow all the people in the world to explore all the content in the world”. Yes, they do, but unlike smart phones which need to be taken out of your pocket, glass will be used for content creation 24/7. This will kill the media companies, they reckon. Everyone interested in what is currently happening in Ukraine will tune into You Tube or new sites that will be called Ukraine Now, for example, where everyone uploads their experiences of the unfolding events. "BBC and other broadcasters will go broke" they claim, buried in a tidal wave of content from a billion users worldwide unless they can work out a way to mediate or curate what is being created. With so much information available to us, we all need companies who are trusted to validate what’s out there. Let’s see who rises above this mess to help us make sense of it.

What about privacy issues?

The NYPD wants to issue glass to their officers to use facial recognition to identify offenders. But would it be right to be recording everything 24/7? Strip clubs and casinos club in the US have banned use of glass on the basis of privacy and cheating.

Google argue that others can see that you're wearing glass and the light is on it’s recording or filming. But the privacy problem will be bigger when everyone is wearing them. And if glass becomes a contact lens rather than a pair of spectacles, which is likely, the problem is even harder to identify.

Google has taken pains to reassure people about the impact of glass on privacy which is why they aren't saying much about facial recognition. In fact they say they don't have it in their product. But it won’t be long before they do (and before someone will build it in to rival products).

What’s next?

An etiquette is evolving on how to use glass. Overusers are called "glassholes" and Google have produced a video on how not to become a glasshole.

Nobody needed Google glass, so necessity wasn’t the mother of invention in this case - imagination was. (And of course the potential to make lots of money and control everyone on the planet). Let’s see what uses Google glass prompts us to imagine and whether or not we can withstand the temptation to play 24/7.