April 6, 2012
If we wanted another name for the Age of Information, one that highlighted its darker side, it might well be the Age of Distraction. Many of us find ourselves constantly reaching into our pockets and tapping on glass screens to read texts, emails, Twitter feeds and status updates. This flood of information can interrupt conversations and concentrated thought.
Google aims to solve the problem of information overload in a surprising manner: by sticking all this data right in front of your face, at any given time. Its new computerized glasses prototype, currently under development, is part of Project Glass, which, the company says, will be a technology “that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment.”
The glasses have been in development for some time, and rumors of their potential capabilities have popped up all over the web. On Wednesday, Google finally released some specific information about one of its most intriguing innovations, produced by Google X, the company’s secret lab that works on future technologies.
As seen in the video above, the glasses will be voice-operated, contain a camera and have the capability to project all sorts of digital information right on the lens. They could be used to provide real-time GPS directions, field video calls, perform internet searches, send text messages–really, anything an Android-powered phone or tablet can do, since they’ll presumably run on that operating system.
Google has declined to release much information about the technology itself, instead focusing on what capabilities the device will offer to users. Based on the video, it looks like the system will include a transparent display, which will project graphics in front of your view of the real world. Potentially, users might be able to navigate the system with subtle eye movements, tracked by a micro-camera focusing on the eyeball. The glasses would likely be tethered to a smartphone or other external computing device to save weight and battery capacity.
Responses have been all over the map, with some bloggers gushing over the glasses and others calling them creepy or downright dystopian. The main concern, as PC World notes, is obvious—if we’re so distracted by the tiny computers we carry already, how will we possibly escape the clutches of a smartphone that we wear on our face? According to the New York Times, though, people who have tested the glasses report that they are less distracting than they seem:
One person who had used the glasses said: “They let technology get out of your way. If I want to take a picture I don’t have to reach into my pocket and take out my phone; I just press a button at the top of the glasses and that’s it.”
Others are concerned that Google—which does, after all, still derive the vast majority of its revenue from selling advertisements—will incorporate ads into the glasses as well. Retailers might, for example, buy advertisements that are projected when the wearer walks past one of their stores, or a competitor’s, as depicted in a remixed version of Google’s video by Jonathan McIntosh.
Another worry is that wearable computing technology will only exacerbate concerns about privacy and surveillance in the digital age. Google already bases the ads it shows users on the content of their emails and internet searches; presumably, it might use visual, location and even speech data to further refine its advertisement algorithms. Additionally, many have criticized the glasses for a reason far more mundane: the look. Admittedly, the prototype looks quintessentially nerdy, like something out of Star Trek.
But, as the Atlantic notes, our technology history is filled with severe miscalculations of the popularity of new devices—various visionaries have declared that computers, telephones and televisions would never be adopted by mainstream consumers. And Google isn’t the only technology giant looking to break into the field of wearable computing: Apple filed patents relating to a head-mounted visual display system as far back as 2008, and the company is rumored to be developing a bracelet-type device that could display smartphone notifications and other data. Like it or not, it seems that the flood of data is soon going to move out of our pockets and into our realtime field of view.
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