Techilicious columnist Rajiv Makhni
Google Glass technology is here. But will it be a boon or curse?
It’s a very high-security event with lots of politicians, businessmen and even the PM as part of the guest list. My bag, laptop as well as wallet are dumped into the scanning machine and I’m asked to take off my jacket and shoes too. They are going to hold my phone and my laptop for ‘safekeeping’ as part of the security procedure. The pat-down is fairly intrusive and very thorough and I’m asked to go through the metal-detector scan once again. The only thing I have on me, now other than my clothes, are the glasses on my face. Finally, they deem me ‘clean’ and I pick up all the rest of my stuff and move towards the seating area.
As I look for my table, I touch the side band of my glasses and scan the entire area with its built-in miniature camera and a tiny screen on the glasses, the width of a pencil just slightly above my right eye level, starts to flash information – my exact GPS location, seating plans for the event, schedule for the evening as well as the bio-data of the person who has invited me. I know that it’s her son’s birthday tomorrow as, that she recently had an accident and is recovering from a fractured foot. I tap the touch pad on the glasses to initiate facial recognition and start scanning the room to locate her. The screen locks on to her and I move towards the staging area near the door, greet her, thank her for inviting me, compliment her on her dress (an Ashish Soni, my glasses inform me), ask her to extend my wishes to her son on her birthday and inquire about her foot.
She is slightly perplexed as she accompanies me to my table and as she starts to introduce me to the other guests there, I interrupt by telling her that I think I know them all. I discreetly whisper into the microphone of the glasses to go back into facial recognition mode and start reeling off the names of each person along with extra information (that is flooding into my screen). I stun the lady sitting right next to me by asking her how her trip to London was, while the gentlemen on my left isn’t too happy when I ask him about the progress of the new house he’s constructing on Aurangzeb Road (one floor is illegal).
I see you now: Facial recognition allows you to scan any place and locate the person you want to meet or talk to
The on-stage activities for the evening start and the MC turns out to be a friend. I shake my head left to open my Instant Messenger app and dictate a quick message telling her that she has too much make-up on and the dress (designer rip-off from Bangkok, my glasses inform me) is way too tight. I’m sure she’ll have a fitting reply when she gets off stage. Using the eye movement tracking feature, I open my emails, get a map and driving directions for the party I have to go to next, learn how much more Infosys stock has declined by and also check some news and have the main headlines read out to me through the bone conduction transducer that transmits sound from the glass directly to my ear through my skull bone, thus eliminating the need to wear headphones.
I blink my eyes twice to activate my picture blogging feature. The glasses now start to take pictures every five seconds as I zoom and scroll the entire room for the most interesting people in their candid moments. Each picture will now go on my blog and by midnight, I should have another million hits. I’ll be sure to remember to activate the discreet video filming feature when I go to the other party, as that’s going to be quite a wild one.
If my entire futuristic description above has you excited about the technology as well as concerned about privacy – you’re not alone. But first let’s clarify that statement. This isn’t about the future – this is now. Google Glass as well as other wearable tech has now reached the point where it’s no longer about imagining all this. This could well be our lives from hereon. Think Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Big Brother and Star Trek all coming together in a very exciting but sinister mix.
The Holy Grail
Google Glass, like the name implies, is a pair of glasses that you wear but can do what no other ‘spectacles’ can even dream of. And the specs on these specs are quite mind-boggling. It has a tiny high-resolution screen embedded right where your peripheral vision starts and because it’s that close – your eye sees it like a 25-inch screen. The glass band has a touch pad that lets you slide your fingers up and down to scroll and move though pages and you tap to select an item.
Map my way: Get driving instructions and maps without ever looking down
The device is also fitted with a tiny speaker, microphone and motion sensors that interpret commands based on the wearer’s head movements. Eye movements can also be used to control the device and simple head motions allow you to scroll through different apps and features. Google Glass can do everything a smartphone does without you having to fish it out of your pocket or look at the screen or use your hands to control it. It can film and photograph on demand, provide real-time info at the nod of your head, plus get your driving instructions and maps without you ever looking down. Excited? You should be! This is the Holy Grail of technology.
Flipping the Glass
Just like all modern technology breakthroughs, there’s an obvious flip side to this device too. But that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike other devices, once we go down this path – there is no going back. Life, as we know it will be over. And while that may sound very profound, let me make my case.
Crossing a road with these on and you see new Facebook pictures flashing onto your Google Glass; it may well be your face plastered all over a truck the very next second.
Driving a car and using this for directions – a news headline may distract you enough to make sure that it’s your mangled car that makes it the headlines the next morning.
Wearing glasses at all times isn’t the world’s most comfortable thing. They need care and attention and these are super fragile. Plus, there will be versions for those who already wear powered glasses, so now you have two to take care of.
Imagine an entire world that wears these kind of glasses as this is now your phone and heads-up info unit. Have you heard the term ‘Cyborgs’? Well, now you’re going to be one of them!
These look and sound very cool, but at the end of the day, these have to have the form factor of a pair of glasses. So where does the battery go? If your current smartphone gives you 14 hours of battery life, this one may give you four, despite the claim of full-day battery power. That would mean an additional battery pack that we will have to wear on our body! This will give birth to a whole new world of wearable accessories. I think I’ll go with the purplish black GogGlas battery pack shaped like a beard and also worn like one.
Storage is another issue. These are supposed to be the record keepers of your life. Photos every five seconds, video on demand, record of where you went, whom you met, what each person said – you can literally play back your entire day just like a film. But where will you store your life? Not on the glasses! The on-board 16GB will fill up in minutes and thus you will need an extra device to store it all. Plus you need to tether this to your smartphone to send all that info to and fro as this may not have Wi-Fi or 4G embedded in it. Kind of defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it?
The big one. Just how uncomfortable is it to know that anyone can look you up, recognise you, search for all your personal details and invade your life just because you’re sitting nearby in a coffee shop. Stalkers and the mildly obsessive will have a field day.
As the whole world starts to wear these, an army of Google Glassians will be born. Every word you’ve said around anybody, every gesture and every action will be tagged, searched and played back by anyone who can hack or access this info. Big Brother was nothing; this would be the Big Mother of them all!
Privacy at all levels will be compromised. You won’t be allowed to wear them into cinema halls (you can record a movie and ‘share it’ first day first show). Casinos won’t allow them anywhere near the tables (film your blackjack hand and get expert card counting advice), or strip clubs (!!), examination centres or nightclubs. The 5-Point Café in Seattle has already banned the use of Google Glass and has even pasted a sign that says ‘a** kickings will be encouraged for violators’ of the rule.
As of now, this technology comes in the form factor of glasses to be worn and is thus easily identifiable. The next version may well be contact lenses – which may make it impossible to know when you’re being observed, studied and filmed. A London-based campaign group ‘Stop The Cyborgs’ are calling for limits on when the glasses can be used – along with guidelines to inform the public when they are being filmed. They want people to ‘actively set social and physical bounds around the use of technologies and not just fatalistically accept the direction technology is heading in’.
Two Sides to the Coin
When you look deep into what technology like this represents – it may well be the first time that a technology has come along that represents both sides of the coin in such a dramatic and drastic manner. On the one side, this is by far the most cutting-edge innovation in a very long time; on the other hand, it is also the most invasive technological innovation ever conceived. Put together it may turn the world upside down, one pair of glasses at a time.
What do you think about technology like Google Glass? Are you excited by it and would love to wear a pair? If yes, would you be okay if others wore them around you and turned them on you? Write to me on Twitter using the hashtag #glassesmytake. I’ll check out your comments on my Google Glass while filming that wild party tonight.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, April 21
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