By now, most people have seen the concept video or at least heard about Google’s Project Glass, their next phase of augmented reality technology. If you haven’t, here’s the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4
What a fantastic bad idea.
Daniel Suarez envisioned a new world of augmented reality in his books Daemon and FreedomTM–probably my favorite fiction of the last ten years. However, the founding principle of Suarez’s “Darknet” was the democratization of information. Google Glass represents the opposite. This would just be one more way for Google to expand the ecosystem of G+ to collect more information and build even more targeted advertising for users.
Suarez used augmented reality as a way for ordinary citizens to become empowered, granting access to public information in the form of layers displayed through their glasses. Instead of information being controlled by the government or Corporations, everyone could see it right in front of them. Glass represents the opposite, giving users some new features that might be useful on the surface, but allow even more detailed tracking of their movements, purchase patterns, social graph, and more.
Another issue is the disconnect we are creating with this kind of tech. As I wrote recently, we are already so engrossed in our devices, we can’t be bothered to interact in many traditional ways. I’ll use myself as an example. All too often, I get so zoned in on one of my devices that I completely miss something my wife is saying. Now that we have a seven month old, I’m concerned I may be dividing my focus more than I should. Should I really be ignoring my immediate family so I can go answer a friend request from someone I haven’t talked to since junior high? If Glass catches on, we will need a name for people who ignore the physical in favor of their digital HUD–I suggest Glasshole.
Glass also seeks to make our online world more seamless with the physical world. It certainly makes sense that a company that has little physical presence would want to merge their offerings with the offline world. Unfortunately, I don’t believe most of our brains are capable of that kind of multitasking. I’ve battled ADD since I was a kid, so I know about the consequences of splitting our attention. Ultimately, multitasking is less about processing multiple inputs and more about dividing our attention into smaller and smaller pieces, until focusing on one thing for a meaningful length of time is almost unheard of. We are not multicore processors, we can’t execute multiple operations concurrently. Paying attention to my Google HUD means I’m not paying attention to something else.
Ultimately, I know advances like this are inevitable as we seek technology that is more and more integrated with our everyday lives. I will continue to embrace new technology, but I will always keep an eye on how it affects the relationships in the real world that are most important to me.
My main concern is that I don’t want a massive company like Google owning the infrastructure for something like this. We have already made our eyeballs and attention Google’s product thanks to Gmail, Search, and their other products. We’re doing the same thing with Facebook by giving them so much personal data. I don’t want a for-profit company driving this kind of technology because I don’t want my information being sold or abused in the name of ROI or shareholder value. Youtube user rebelliouspixels gives us an idea of what that kind of abuse might look like based on Google's track record.
At the end of the day, I guess I want elements of Suarez’s books to come true. I’d rather have a genius, altruistic, borderline-mental billionaire create this technology to empower people than someone who reports to a board of directors and is just trying to buy their next vacation home by using our data as currency.