Anticipated and Controversial, First Google Glass Devices in Production

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Google Glass is fast becoming the most hyped, anticipated, controversial technology trial of the year. You heard it here first—although I’m sure you didn’t—Google will ship the first Google Glass devices in the next few days. Google’s Glass Explorer program enrolled 2,000 pre-early adopters who will pay $1,500 to beta test the firm’s wearable computer, iron out the kinks, and get the PR ball rolling.

In an email to Glass Explorers, Google said the first devices are coming “off the production line right now.” Seemingly as eager to get these things into people’s hands, over their eyes, and behind their ears, Google said they’d break shipment into waves instead of waiting for all 2,000 pairs to be manufactured.

Along with the shipment announcement, Google released API guidelines for developers and a list of specifications. Glass takes 5 MP photos and 720p video to be stored on 16 GB flash memory (12 GB usable). Audio will be played by bone conduction transducer and battery life is an ambiguous full day (9am to 5pm?) of typical use (??).

The image projection (the coolest part of Google Glass) is equivalent to a 25 inch HD screen viewed from eight feet away. That isn’t much real estate, but likewise it won’t obscure your view. Presumably, if they can figure out how to do it, future iterations might expand the screen further, overlaying more digital information on the analog view.

Google Glass hooks up to the Internet over WiFi or via the cellphone in your pocket, which makes the device less revolutionary—more of an extension of your smartphone than its replacement. Further, iPhone users are out of luck. The MyGlass app only works on Android currently.

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Though there’s more than a little excitement in the technology community—$1,500 is no small fee to be a beta tester—now that Google Glass in practice is becoming a reality, there’s a growing chorus of worry too. Mark Hurst of Creative Good perhaps sums it up best, “The Google Glass feature that (almost) no one is talking about is the experience—not of the user, but of everyone other than the user.”

When talking to someone wearing Google Glass you won’t know if you have their attention or if they’re looking at their display. And you won’t know if they’re recording the conversation. Of course, you can simply ask them to take off their specs. But the concern runs much deeper than that—it’s about the people you don’t know.

More advanced versions of Google Glass (or wearable computing, in general) may become continuously cloud connected and capable of nonstop audio and video recording. An ocean of data flowing into Google’s servers may one day be searchable using face or voice recognition.

Instead of voluntary information release, you may be recorded every moment you’re in public, without your knowledge or consent. As future iterations of the tech become less obvious, say, embedded in a contact lens—“there will be no opting out.”

“A single search query within Google’s cloud—whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between—will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.”

It’s a terrifying 1984-like vision where state surveillance isn’t forced upon us; we willingly and thoughtlessly collaborate to make it happen.

The power of information is only increasing, and in the wrong hands, could be devastating. At the same time, I wonder if in hindsight we’ll view such arguments as archaic—worries for generations that didn’t grow up with the Internet, smartphones, and social media recording everything from their first words to their 21st birthdays.

The definition of privacy has already changed drastically. Perhaps Google Glass is more movement along that same inexorable path. The fears are plausible, but the benefits outweigh them, and society adjusts. In either case, now is the time to start the conversation, not end it. We’ll know more when and if Google Glass and its kin move past the hype and hypothetical and into practical use.

Image Credit: Google

Discussion — 5 Responses

  • dobermanmacleod April 19, 2013 on 4:07 am

    It is laughable the dilemmas that people who think too much imagine. I started wearing a stereo mp3 player, and everyone worries that I am not listening to them. Even now cameras and microphones are attached to cell phones that people carry everywhere and hold up at face level. Plus many are smart phones, connected to web constantly. Google glasses just raise the bar a little more. Sort of like being in the same room as a gun – I’ve had city people worried they were going to get shot – just a matter of culture and habituation. I guess they are worry they are going to get shot being in the same room as a pair of Google glasses (ha, ha).

    • palmytomo dobermanmacleod April 19, 2013 on 4:19 pm

      Although I agree Glass is a continuation of familiar mobile computing, it is vastly more important, I’m watching it and thinking about it with great interest (I have a Google Alert set up to send me news.) Here’s some of my starting thoughts. PLEASE note, I’m not ‘selling’ Glass, I fully realise it will bring the usual confusion and injuries and losses that things like the first telephones and the first computers did.

      1. Video recording, especially very intimate and pervasive will affect relationships
      (a) Bringing families/co-workers (and everyone else) together by ‘telepresence’ with each other, and yet also, when un-consented, bringing rage and probably at first, some violence
      (b) Paradoxically, it will prevent some violence because everyone will learn they have become ‘accountable’. Police have immediately adopted Glass technology with great enthusiasm. Probably, so will people walking in dangerous streets, despite the risk of theft of the device.
      2. The popularity of Glass get-togethers using Google Hangouts will sky-rocket as Glass users relax with each other any place, any time. It will be a very new kind of conversation because of a marvellous companion – the instant-internet. They will soon realise they’ve become ‘advanced beings’ because of this. Think for a moment about the satisfactions and business and political advantages of accelerated, internet-boosted, intellectual and emotional exchanges. It can add in simultaneous conversation with non-Glass people present or distant). It will soon make conventional PC-based Skype look like horse & cart or carrier pigeon.
      3. I think the nerdy on-your-face Glass will be replaced as soon as possible with a nicer, but even more powerful successor, the contact lens version. Have a look at the YouTube SciFi video called ‘SIght’ at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK_cdkpazjI
      As Kurtzweil suggests, Glass is a step towards the ‘Singularity’ where we augment ourselves with non-biological technology that delights and empowers us. It’ll be ‘in’ our bodies sooner or later, giving us super-biological optics and audio input/output, processing power, telepresence.
      4. The other features also will make Glass very popular. At last, some real liberation from clunky monitor, mouse and keyboard – using voice command for Google search, GPS guidance where you’re going, instant no-rummaging access to your cell phone, email, Google Hangouts (group video sessions) and Drive (documents stored in the ‘cloud’ that can be worked on cooperatively), scheduling, memo-recording/recall/edit/exchange, taking photos, probably soon doing calculations and spreadsheets.
      Bruce Thomson in New Zealand.

      • turtles_allthewaydown palmytomo May 28, 2013 on 2:38 pm

        I agree with Palmytomo. It’s definitely a step forward, but comes with risks and rewards. With widespread use, the whole controversy of faulty witnesses and problematic police sketches and picking the right person out of a lineup will be eliminated. Perhaps the recordings of uncooperative witnesses could be subject to subpoena. Crime could be dramatically reduced.

        But then how do you control your own images that are stored on the cloud – whether on the beach, in the locker room, on a first date, or any other situation you don’t necessarily want everybody to search on. We’ve already had issues with employers forcing job prospects to give them their facebook passwords. How do you deal with videos that involve an ex? How about images of children, which generally require a consent form to be published today? Or the Amish, who don’t want any pictures taken of adults as it goes against their idea of “graven images”.

  • Alexander Hayes April 19, 2013 on 6:56 pm

    Greetings. Please navigate to this article recently published via the University of Wollongong website – http://media.uow.edu.au/news/UOW147704.html

  • amrnewkight April 21, 2013 on 2:28 am

    Again, another great idea from Google

    let us wait to see what the future hiding for the the Humans :)