We always knew this was coming. Advancements in science and technology have allowed us to create the world we live in and we’ve arrived at a truly unique place in the world. Science fiction literature, film and television has so often explored fantastic ideas, showcasing great creativity and forward thinking—and within a few short decades, we’ve seen that fantasy (more often than not) becoming a reality. Enter Google Glass: the newest step in our technological journey. Google Glass offers the user a vision-based UI, providing a nearly seamless integration of digital information and the real world. Yet as amazing as this innovation is, some rather large problems were born along with it.
Computers were once thought impossible. (A thinking machine? Unbelievable!) Today, we’ve made incredible leaps—even walking the tightrope toward technological singularity—as we continue on the path toward more accessible and interactive technology.
At first, computers were as big as a room, requiring the user to feed in punch cards to read calculations. With PCs came the keyboard, completely changing the way we interface with the computer. Once the mouse was integrated, the visual experience changed significantly with the introduction of a graphical user interface, allowing a degree of immersion many people never thought possible.
For years, the keyboard, mouse and monitor were the standard. Really, from the early Apple computers and Windows 3.1, there were no significant changes to the UI until the development of the touchscreen and stylus. PDAs were only a blip on the radar; when the iPhone was introduced, everything changed. Within just a few years, the touchscreen became the standard. The development of touchscreen smartphones revolutionized computers and the UI experience, but just like the stylus and PDA, the touchscreen may be just another transitory step.
Augmented Reality: It’s For Real
At this point, we reached a level of technology so immersive (not to mention lightweight and portable), that the formerly mysterious concept of “augmented reality” has quickly become a widely understood idea. Google Glass (and technology like it) is truly the next leap forward—and Google is working very hard to develop that next step of UI immersion and user experience.
The experience of wearing Google Glass is pretty amazing. But how positive will the experience be for everyone else around those wearing Google Glass? Think about it: When wearing Google Glass, everything you do, say, see or hear can be recorded and stored on Google’s cloud servers, in an ever-expanding database. While all this live interfacing with big data offers amazing possibilities in areas such as healthcare, social service, troubleshooting, disaster situations and recovery, and much more—we’re also looking at a bunch of new problems.
The advent of all this versatile tech means we’re forced to ask important questions; namely: “What happened to anonymity?”
Privacy: Still Possible?
Before we get too caught up in the wonders of this new technology, we have to ask ourselves where we draw the line for privacy. When is public information too public? When does an individual actually own his or her own information? Truth be told, these are questions we need to address now, if we’re going to truly embrace this technology responsibly.
The technology behind Google Glass (some of which is already present in many of today’s smartphones, by the way) unveils a whole new paradigm in what it means to have personal privacy. We’re increasingly faced with the following challenge…
How do we increase the access we have to digital information anywhere and everywhere all the time while doing the following two things: 1. Respecting the privacy of others, and 2. Avoiding becoming so immersed and dependent upon that technology, that if it were to become unavailable (for example: the electricity goes out or the system shuts down), that we can still function?
Perhaps this is a situation where we must place a set of limitations on the technology itself. Google Glass is not just about the wearer’s experience; we must also factor in the experiences of others around the wearer. Consider this: Facial recognition will allow Glass to connect everyone it “sees” with his or her own personal social-media-related data. Now what if everything that’s said and heard within the radius of Google Glass is recorded, tagged to that person and cataloged permanently? Now what if future versions of Google Glass record these surroundings automatically, without even the permission or knowledge of the wearer?
Things could get out of hand very quickly.
So, for this technology to be truly successful, we need to create an experience both positive and safe for not only the user, but for anyone else around the user as well. While Google Glass reinvents our understanding and use of augmented reality in a way we had previously only dreamed of, we need to remember that we’re collectively working together for a greater world. That means outlining expectations for positive augmented reality experiences that enhance everyone’s quality of life in the long run.